Community Research and Action

How to start with a literature review.

Pre-search

1.  Have your thesis statement developed.

2.  Brainstorm the concepts and ideas that you are going to use to search for your literature related to your topic.

  • Free-writing or concept mapping may be used to help.   The idea isn't to have a developed paragraph here, but just to get ideas down for searching.

3.  Determine the subjects that you need to search within to do a complete literature review.

During the search

  • Keep a log of what you have searched and where you have searched. 
    • what did I type in?  did I try these as keyword searches?  subject searches? 
    • what worked? what didn't work?
    • what do I need to go back to?
    • what terms/authors do I see coming up that I need to explore?

As you get deeper into your research, this will save you time by allowing you see patterns and prevents you from backtracking.

  • Track your bibliographic citations with a citation management tool so you can find  your sources quickly and easily.
     
    • You will want to be able to add to it, edit it, and if necessary, share it with fellow researchers. Our Citation Managers page can help you choose one that might work for you.
       
    • Explore tools in research databases that allow you to track your search histories and results easily.
      • Once you access the databases through our website, many of them have an account creation option.  While every vendor is different, these options are always worth exploring.  For example, in Ebsco, if you log in with your account, you can save search histories from session to session.  

        To find out more, ask your librarian or use the HELP screens in each database.

Organizing the Research

Sometimes, during a strong literature review may involve multiple read throughs of the literature:

  • Consider how you are going to organize your literature review - you may need to review the abstracts of everything to give you an idea what may work best before you read your literature in depth.
     
  • Read over the literature that you have found, noting where the disagreements and agreements are themes, methods and conclusions.   Be consistent with what you record for each piece of literature.

  • A good literature review does not just simply summarize what has been already been done, but will analyze and synthesize.   Review your notes and ask critical questions of the literature.  It may be necessary to go back and re-read all or some of the literature at this point.

  • Before you start writing, arrange you notes in the general organizational order that you plan on using them in the literature review - for example, if you are doing a chronological theme, then place your notes in that order.  This help make sure you don't miss anything by accident.

Note & Outlining Tools

Analytical Tools

Coopers Taxonomy (Cooper, 2009) designed for meta-analysis, 6 goals of literature reviews can still provide a structure for many other types of literature reviews, include narrative

Boote & Beille Lit Review Rubric (pdf)