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Literature Review - A Self-Guided Tutorial

A self-guided tutorial that walks you through the process of conducting a Literature Review. Home Who's My Librarian?

Locate your University Library's subject librarian for personalized assistance.

Students doing research in specific areas may also request assistance at other IUPUI libraries:

 

Copyright

Creative Commons License

Literature Review - A Self-Guided Tutorial was created by Kathleen Hanna, with contributions from Sara Lowe and Ted Polley (all with IUPUI University Library) and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Content used in this tutorial adapted from Writing at the University of Toronto's "The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It" and The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill's "Literature Reviews."

Welcome!

Literature review process cycle, from Literature Review (2009) by Machi and McEvoy.This guide will help you to:

  • Define a literature review.
  • Recognize that different fields of study have their own way to perform and write literature reviews.
  • Prepare to search the literature.
  • Read critically -- analyze and synthesize.
  • Prepare to write a literature review.

 

Graphic from Literature Review (2009) by Machi and McEvoy.

 

Detailed description of, Literature Review Process

What's a Literature Review? Who's My Librarian?

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Students doing research in specific areas may also request assistance at other IUPUI libraries:

 

What's a Literature Review?

What's a Literature Review? 

A literature review (or lit review, for short) is an in-depth critical analysis of published scholarly research related to a specific topic. Published scholarly research (the "literature") may include journal articles, books, book chapters, dissertations and thesis, or conference proceedings. 

A solid lit review must:

  • be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you're developing
  • synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • formulate questions that need further research
 
View the video for a brief explanation of lit reviews. 
(It's not just for grad students!)

 

1. Identify the question Who's My Librarian?

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Students doing research in specific areas may also request assistance at other IUPUI libraries:

 

Identify the question

Identify the question

In some cases, such as for a course assignment or a research project you're working on with a faculty mentor, your research question will be determined by your professor. If that's the case, you can move on to the next stepOtherwise, you may need to explore questions on your own. 

A few suggestions:

choose a topic icon  Choose a topic that interests you! You'll be spending a lot of time with it.

stack of books icon  Explore your topic using your textbooks, reference books, and articles and by consulting your professor. 

question mark icon  Be open to tweaking your research question as you gather more information.

 

Developing a Research Question

Developing a Research Question

Detailed description of, "Developing a Research Question"

2. Review discipline styles Who's My Librarian?

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Review discipline styles

Review discipline styles

Each discipline has its own style for writing a literature review; social science lit reviews may look different than those from the biological sciences or engineering.

The best way to become familiar with lit reviews in your field of study is to look at published journal articles and note how they present the information.

Here are a few examples of articles which contain a literature review in the Introduction section of the article. The last article on the list is a systematic review article. Click on the links at the end of each citation to view the article.

  • Mosher, C. E., Given, B. A., & Ostroff, J. S. (2015). Barriers to mental health service use among distressed family caregivers of lung cancer patients. European Journal of Cancer Care, 24(1), 50–59. http://doi.org/10.1111/ecc.12203
  • Gibau, G. S. (2015). Considering Student Voices: Examining the Experiences of Underrepresented Students in Intervention Programs. CBE Life Sciences Education, 14(3). http://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.14-06-0103
  • León, D., Arzola, N., & Tovar, A. (2015). Statistical analysis of the influence of tooth geometry in the performance of a harmonic drive. Journal of the Brazilian Society of Mechanical Sciences and Engineering, 37(2), 723-735. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40430-014-0197-0
  • Sawesi, S., Rashrash, M., Phalakornkule, K., Carpenter, J. S., & Jones, J. F. (2016). The Impact of Information Technology on Patient Engagement and Health Behavior Change: A Systematic Review of the Literature. JMIR Medical Informatics, 4(1), e1. http://doi.org/10.2196/medinform.4514

To view additional articles by IUPUI authors, please visit IUPUI ScholarWorks.

3. Search the literature Who's My Librarian?

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Search the literature

If you're working on a research project with a professor or faculty mentor, they may recommend articles to help you begin your readings of the literature. You can use these as a jumping off point to locate additional sources.

To locate additional articles, your best bet is to refer to your librarian's online research guide for a list of appropriate article databases for your discipline

A few suggestions:

light bulb icon Before searching, brainstorm some keywords based on your topic. The infographics below can help.
check list icon Search systematically and keep track of your search terms; this will help you figure out which search strategies provide the best results.
download icon Save and organize the articles and other sources you wish to set aside for further reading and give your files names that make sense for you, e.g. Smith_2015.pdf (Author last name_publication year.pdf).
Brainstorming Keywords

Brainstorming Keywords

Detailed description of, "Brainstorming Keyword Diagrams"

Why Use a Concept Map?

Concept maps or tables are tools that help you brainstorm ideas, focus your topic, and identify possible keywords before using the library's databases to search for articles for your literature review.

The video below is from Penn State University Libraries.

Creating a Concept Map 4. Manage your references Who's My Librarian?

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Students doing research in specific areas may also request assistance at other IUPUI libraries:

 

Citation Management Tools

Citation management tools allow you to keep citations, full-text articles, and other research resources organized in one place. These tools can also be used to format your bibliographies and the citations in your papers according to the appropriate style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) To use these tools, you should be familiar with the target citation style in order to input information correctly and notice any errors in your bibliography. Please contact a subject librarian for further assistance.

End Note

EndNote is software that helps manage citations for bibliographies. Includes an add-in for Microsoft Word. For questions about EndNote, please contact Chloe Alexander, the EndNote specialist librarian, or your subject librarian.

Mendeley

Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research. It includes a Microsoft Word plug-in and web importer. For questions about Mendeley, please contact Rachel Hinrichs, the Mendeley specialist librarian, or your subject librarian.

Zotero

Zotero is a free Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources. It includes an add-in for Microsoft Word. For questions, please contact Ted Polley, the Zotero specialist librarian, or your subject librarian.

Manage your references

Manage your references

 

As part of your lit review, you'll need to provide a list of references -- your professors want to know where you found your information. 

Your professor will also require that you use a specific format ("style") for citing your references, such as one of these: 

University Library provides an online guide to help you cite your sources correctly in multiple styles.

Why do I have to cite my sources?

Citations are important because:

glasses icon

They help others find the information that you used.

thumbs up

They help establish the credibility of your own research.

computer icon

They connect your work to the work of other scholars.

dialogue icon

It is one way that scholars enter into a dialogue with each other.

diploma icon

It is a way to honor and acknowledge the work of others who have made your own research possible.

Citation styles

There are many different formats for citing the sources you use in your research. Here are a few.

Format Discipline
Modern Language Association
(MLA)
Humanities
American Psychological Association
(APA)
Social Science
Education
Business
Nursing
Council of Science Editors
(CSE)
Life Sciences
Physical Sciences
Mathematics
Chicago Manual of Style
(Chicago)
Humanities
Social Sciences

 

Regardless of format, you must include the same basic bibliographic information for a citation.

 

 

5. Critically analyze and evaluate Who's My Librarian?

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Students doing research in specific areas may also request assistance at other IUPUI libraries:

 

Critically analyze and evaluate

Critically analyze and evaluate

Ask yourself questions like these about each book or article you include:

  1. What is the research question?
  2. What is the primary methodology used?
  3. How was the data gathered?
  4. How is the data presented?
  5. What are the main conclusions?
  6. Are these conclusions reasonable?
  7. What theories are used to support the researcher's conclusions?

Take notes on the articles as you read them and identify any themes or concepts that may apply to your research question.

This sample template (below) may also be useful for critically reading and organizing your articles.

 

Sample Template for Critical Analysis of the Literature Tip

Opening an article in PDF format in Acrobat Reader will allow you to use "sticky notes" and "highlighting" to make notes on the article without printing it out. Make sure to save the edited file so you don't lose your notes!

6. Synthesize Who's My Librarian?

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Synthesize

SynthesizeThis is the point where you sort articles by themes or categories in preparation for writing your lit review. You may find a synthesis matrix, like this one, or in the box below, helpful in understanding how this works.

 

You can sort the literature in various ways, for example:

light bulb image  by themes or concepts

clock image  historically or chronologically (tracing a research question across time),or

diverging arrows image  by methodology.

Synthesis Matrix Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Jennifer Lim

7. Write literature review Who's My Librarian?

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Write literature review

Write literature reviewA literature review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list summarizing one piece of literature after another. Organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question.

This handout from UNC - Chapel Hill provides several effective strategies for writing the literature review.

  • Include only the most important points from each source -- you want to summarize, not quote from the sources.
  • Include your own conclusions from analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing what you learned from these articles.
  • Avoid plagiarism in your lit review. Consult this tutorial on Academic Integrity if you need some guidance.

From UNC-Chapel Hill and University of Toronto

 

Quiz Quiz

Quiz: What Have You Learned?

If quiz does not load, click here http://ulib.iupui.edu/files/html5/LitReviewFinalQuizSWF.html.

Quiz Pre-Test

How Much Do You Already Know?

If quiz does not display - click here - http://ulib.iupui.edu/files/html5/LitReviewQuizSWF.html.

Literature Reviews: A Recap Literature Reviews: A Recap

Literature Reviews: A Recap

So, the lit review is an integral part of the research process that helps you:

magnifying glass icon  fully understand your topic

light bulb icon  develop your own research ideas

article icon  demonstrate your knowledge

It's part of what's called the "scholarly conversation," the network of research studies that tell the story of relationships and connections in a discipline. Your research will become part of this conversation.

Literature reviews may appear as the introduction to a journal article or as an in-depth "review article" or as part of a graduate student's dissertation or thesis.

 

 

 

 

Reading Journal Articles How to Read and Comprehend Scientific Journal Articles

How to Read and Comprehend Scientific Journal Articles

Peer-reviewed or scholarly journal articles are written in a very specific organized and formal way. If you haven't spent much time with this type of literature, this video provides some tips for reading journal articles.

 

 

Does it describe a Literature Review? Does it describe a literature review?

Fact Check

Determine whether the statements below describe or do not describe a literature review and drag them to the appropriate box.

Searching article databases - video How to Use a Database How to Search a Database Finding the article full-text Finding the Full-Text of an Article

If the full text of the article is available through the database, you'll see a link to view the article in HTML and/or PDF format.

Find It ButtonIf the full text of the article is NOT available through the database, click on the Find It button. This will automatically search all the other library databases to see if we have it online elsewhere. 

If we don't have it online elsewhere, Interlibrary Loan allows you to obtain journal articles at no cost to you. Delivery of most documents is done electronically via e-mail.

 

InterLibrary Loan

InterLibrary Loan Process

Detailed description of, "Use Interlibrary Loan"

Citation chaining Citation Linker

If you have the citation of an article, you can quickly and easily find the full text from IUPUI using this Citation Linker.

Enter the citation information into the form to view full text options.

Make sure to include the Article Title and one of the following: name of the Journal, ISSN, DOI, or PMID.

Citation Chaining

Citation chaining is the process by which you use one good information source, such as an article relevant to your topic, and mine its list of References for additional useful resources. This is called backward chaining. You can locate those cited articles by inputting the citation information into Citation Linker (see box at left) or often you can do this directly within an article database.

 

You can also do forward chaining; this identifies those who have cited the article. This is simple to do in Google Scholar. You can also personalize Google Scholar to link to articles to which the library has access.

 
In Google Scholar I Want to Add IUPUI Libraries to My "Library Links"

When you search Google Scholar on your personal computer, you can configure your settings so that IUPUI Library resource links appear in your results. Then you can click the Find It @ IUPUI Link to access a library item.

(TIP: If you're at a temporary computer and don't want to activate these settings, you can access Google Scholar via our Databases page (Library Home Page > Databases > G > Google Scholar). You'll be prompted to login with your IU Login, and then you'll see the Find It @ IUPUI links as well.)

Screenshot of Google Scholar citation and its "Find It @ IUPUI" Link

 

To configure your Google Scholar Library Links, click on Settings. in the upper right of the search page.

Screenshot of Google Scholar "Settings" option

 

Then select Library Links and search for "Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis." Check the box in the search select and click "Save."

Screenshot of Google Scholar "Library links" option

When to stop searching When should I stop searching?

If you have searched the article databases and start to see the same articles over and over again, then you have done your due diligence and can consider your lit review complete. That isn't to say an article might not slip through, but if you have done the steps below, then the chances of a really important article slipping past you is pretty slim.

  1. Searched all relevant databases, using a variety of keywords and subject headings.
  2. Mined article bibliographies for their cited references.
  3. Looked in Google Scholar (finds articles, books, conference proceedings, etc) or Web of Science (finds scholarly articles, weighted towards the sciences) to see who has cited those articles.

 

Guide ID: 
473648
URL: 
https://iupui.libguides.com/literaturereview
Updated Sep 25, 2020 by Webmaster