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Determine your purpose, scope, and audience. What content are you looking for, how many items, how recent, and in what disciplines?
If you're not sure how ideas are connected or what you're really looking for, try a concept map to help you brainstorm and find a question that's most interesting to you.
2. Search for Sources
Start with reference resources, like Wikipedia or a subject encyclopedia, to see your topic's big picture, learn about significant authors, and jot down key words.
Search for your topic in Library Search or a subject-specific database.
3. Organize Sources
Keep track of ALL your sources from the earliest stages, since you often don't know at this point exactly which ones will be used in your final literature review.
Note recurring themes and relationships. Try a synthesis matrix or synthesis table to help you keep track of these themes.
Synthesis Table Video
How to create a synthesis table or matrix to organize and connect information from your sources.
Choose a Citation Manager
Consider using a citation manager such as Refworks or Zotero to help you manage your citations more effectively.
4. Choose the Best Sources
As you search, try to select the most impactful sources by looking at factors such as:
- Author impact: How many times has a study been cited by other researchers?
- Core publications: What are the most noteworthy journals in your field of study?
- Currency: How current does the research need to be in your field?
- Bias: Be aware of your own possible biases and try to treat research even-handedly.
5. Connect Sources
Often when you find one very relevant article (let's say, Smith's article from 2012), you will want to find connected or similar articles. Two useful strategies:
- Review the References or Works Cited list of Smith's article. These articles can show how Smith developed their ideas and which older articles influenced them.
- Review newer articles that developed or built on Smith's ideas. This is sometimes called "cited by" searching, because you are finding articles, newer than 2012, that cited Smith's work.
The two best tools for Cited By searching are Google Scholar and Web of Science.
Find your original source in these databases. Then, look for a link that says, Cited by _____ or Citations: _____.
In Library Search, it is indicated by a downwards-pointing arrow that looks like a "Y", and if you hover over it, it says "Find sources citing this":
Search for an article or book, then look for the Cited By ___ link underneath the title.
Web of Science This link opens in a new window
Search for an article or book, click on its title, then look for the link saying Citations _______.
6. Cite Sources
You must document what you find in your literature review through citations. Ask your professor what citation style you should use, if you're not sure.
Get help using APA, MLA, IEEE, and Chicago styles, and citing data.
Conducting Your Literature Review by
Publication Date: 2019
A step-by-step guide to writing a literature review, including tips for modifying the process as needed depending on your audience, purpose, and goals.