Skip to Main Content

Literature Review How to...

STEP 1: Choose a Topic



Choose a Topic

Informally, explore a topic you find fascinating, that you enjoy, or that you are passionate about.

Look around in familiar places to see if there is enough published material on your topic to allow you to perform a meaningful review. Two or three items would make a weak review.

REALITY CHECK:  You can't review a topic that hasn't been researched. If you can't find articles or books on your topic, maybe nothing has been written about it yet.    Do some informal exploring before emotionally attaching to a topic.

STEP 2: Location of Information



 Ask yourself where information on your topic might be located.

      Newspapers?    Govenment Websites?    Books?     Magazines or Journals?

  • If your topic is Adult Learning Theory, don't look for information in an Agriculture database. Look in Education databases instead.
  • If you are looking for scientific information on Global Warming, don't go to political resources. Go to resources that report rigorous research instead. Use science databases or internet resources such as NOAA.
  • If you are looking for research on the politics of Global Warming, go to political resources.
  • Is your topic cross-disciplinary? Fashion information can be found in BUSINESS, ART, HISTORY, and ENTERTAINMENT resources.

STEP 3: Tools for Searching


Choose your Search Tools.

Google Scholar               EBSCOhost logo            YouTube logo          Library of Congress logo

Identify the tools necessary to locate published works on your topic.  

     Search Engines such as Google Scholar?    Government websites such as the Library of Congress?     Library databases or catalogs?      

Use a variety of tools to get comprehensive results. 

     No one information searching tool will find everything you will need for an adequate literature review.

     Use a variety of tools: library catalogs, library databases, internet search engines, etc.

STEP 4: Information Format


What form should the information be in?

   Journal article icon               Newspaper icon        Video icon   Book icon        Audio icon        TWU Blackboard webpage image   

 research article             newspaper story                 video            book chapter         audio file                    website            


Which format will provide the information you seek?

        Book Chapters  *  Research Articles  *  Videos  *  Newspaper articles  *  Blog posts  *  Audio Recordings  *  Conference papers 

Keep in mind that some topics have a TIME component.

       Information on topics that are historical may not be online.

       You may have to search print resources by hand. Browse Library shelves. Try archives.

       Information on topics that are extremely current may only be available online: news websites, blog posts, twitter, etc.

STEP 5: Search Words


Choose your words carefully.



  Pain Reliever    *    Tylenol   *    Acetaminophen

Informal                   Formal                  Technical

The BEST search begins with a search for the RIGHT SEARCH WORDS. If you get the RIGHT WORDS, the literature will fall into your lap.

When choosing search terms, be comprehensive. Think of as many words as you can.

  • Use Natural Language search terms -- common, everyday words.
  • Use Controlled Vocabulary search terms -- formal / technical terminology.

           Think -- Synonyms!!!

Help with finding formal & technical search terms:

STEP 6: Search Strategy


Budapest Gambit by Sylvain Gadenne

       Devise a Search Strategy

     Make a Plan    *    Follow Your Plan    *   Track Your Work

  • Explore, then choose a topic.
  • Decide which tools to use.  (EX:  Google, JSTOR database, Library Catalog)
  • Decide which formats.    (EX: articles, videos, book chapters, government websites.)
  • List all your search terms.    (EX: "pain reliever" or tylenol or acetaminophen)
  • Identify a timeframe (2009-2014) or limit to only peer-reviewed information

    Try using an Excel Spreadsheet or homemade matrix to help keep track of your searches.

     Use Boolean Logic

           Boolean logic          Advanced Boolean with AND and OR and synonyms

STEP 7: Write



  Read carefully. Analyze what you read.  Write down your thoughts.

     Keep the following in mind when writing:

  • Early in the review, state why the topic being reviewed is important.
  • Distinguish between research findings and other types of information.
  • Indicate why certain studies or certain resources are important.
  • Mention / address other literature reviews on your topic, if they exist.
  • Use your matrix to prevent missing or forgetting something you've found.
  • Note points of agreement between writers.
  • Note points of disagreement and analyze why.
  • Note gaps and weaknesses in individual arguments
  • Note gaps and weaknesses in the body of literature as a whole.
  • Conclude your review with your own personal assessment based on what the literature shows. Refer directly to the literature to bolster your argument.

  If you need help writing, contact the TWU Write Site:

  • Direct, individualized writing assistance.
  • Not a proofreading or editing service.

STEP 8: Cite Sources


Cite your sources. Don't plagiarize.


Know Your Style    *    Use Your Guide   *   When In Doubt - Cite  *   Proofread!



Ask A Librarian button

Other Useful Process Websites

Other websites that might be of help.