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How to Conduct a Literature Review: Literature Reviews - Getting Started

Under the The Creative Commons license permission was granted to copy the design and content of this LibGuide from the Faculty of Education Library, University of Cambridge. Some content also came from the University of Illnois at Urbana-Champaign

Steps to Creating a Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a systematic survey of the scholarly literature published on a given topic.  Rather than providing a new research insight, a literature review lays the groundwork for an in-depth research project analyzing previous research. Type of documents surveyed will vary depending on the field, but can include:

  • books
  • journal articles,
  • theses
  • dissertations.

A thorough literature review will also require surveying what librarians call "gray literature," which includes difficult-to-locate documents such as:

  • technical reports
  • government publications
  • working papers
  • preprints

Purpose of the Lit Review

What's the point?

Purposes of the Literature Review

  • Delimit the research problem
  • Avoid fruitless approaches
  • Identify avenues of future research
  • Seek new lines of inquiry
  • Gain methodological insight

Reasons for Conducting a Literature Review

  • Distinguishing what has been done from what needs to be done
  • Discovering important variables relevant to the topic
  • Synthesizing and gaining new perspective
  • Identifying relationships between ideas and practices
  • Establishing the context of the topic
  • Rationalizing the significance of the problem
  • Enhancing and acquiring subject vocabulary
  • Understanding the structure of the subject
  • Relating ideas and theory to applications
  • Identifying main methodologies and research techniques that have been used
  • Placing research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-art development

Questions to consider

  • What is the overarching question or problem your literature review seeks to address?
  • How much familiarity do you already have with the field? Are you already familiar with common methodologies or professional vocabularies?
  • What types of strategies or questions have others in your field pursued?
  • How will you synthesize or summarize the information you gather?
  • What do you or others perceive to be lacking in your field?
  • Is your topic broad? How could it be narrowed?
  • Can you articulate why your topic is important in your field?


Adapted from Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. London: Sage. As cited in Randolph, Justus. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review.”Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 14(13), p. 2.


Merinda Hensley gave permision for content to be borrowed by permission from Literature Review: Demystified LibGuide from the University of Illnois at Urbana-Champaign.

Getting Started

Once you've decided what you want to write about you will need to conduct a systematic review of journal literature to establish what has been written in your field.

Databases enable you to combine search terms and locate high quality journal articles, conference papers and proceedings from a wide range of sources. Have a look at the Accessing Databases tab to choose the right one for your subject area. There are links to brief online tutorials or pdf guides to help you with using each of the databases there too.


Why use a database?

What about Google?

Why not Google?

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Eva B. Dykes Library Libguides by Oakwood University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.