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What is a Literature Review?
The literature review is defined by a guiding concept - your thesis or research question! It is not simply a list of summaries or the literature in your field. It serves several purposes:
- provides a background and basis for your research question
- demonstrates your ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize previous work in your field
- sets the context and significance for your research topic
- identifies gaps in the literature (i.e. - shows why your work is important!)
What Makes a Successful Literature Review?
Here are eight steps toward completing a successful literature review.
- Search terms: Formulate appropriate search terms as the basis for your literature searches.
- Database search tools: Use database search tools to identify relevant journal articles and related materials.
- Key publications: Identify a series of key publications in your area and use these as the bases for citation reference searches.
- Web search tools: Use web search tools to identify pieces of interest, in particular grey literature, relevant to you.
- Scanning: Scan abstracts of articles, reviews of books, executive summaries of government reports, and other summaries of published work to determine if you need to read the piece in full
- Reading: Read the pieces you have identified and make notes from them.
- Thematic organization: Use these notes as the basis of a thematic organization of your literature review.
- Writing the review: Write the review, based on the thematic organization, in such a way that you can construct one or more interesting research questions which you will address in your investigation.
- When you find a good source, look at its bibliography to find other good sources that might be helpful for your background and bibliography sections. Review articles are particularly good for this. How do you find a review article? Most databases have an "Article Type" menu from which you can select "review." You can also add the word "review" to your searches.
- Organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.
Find UI Theses and Dissertations
One of the best ways to get started is to read a completed thesis or dissertation from your department.
- Find a thesis or dissertation using the UI Library's Theses and Dissertations database. Click on "Find" from the library homepage, then "Theses and Dissertations."
From the "Theses and Dissertations" database, enter your department name. For example, Family and Consumer Sciences and theses.