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Steps in a Comprehensive* Literature Review

*Comprehensive search for a scoping or systematic review, thesis, dissertation, or capstone..

What is a Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research. Research tells a story and the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward. 

Purpose of a Literature Review

  • Identifies gaps in current knowledge
  • Helps you to avoid reinventing the wheel by discovering the research already conducted on a topic
  • Sets the background on what has been explored on a topic so far
  • Increases your breadth of knowledge in your area of research
  • Helps you identify seminal works in your area
  • Allows you to provide the intellectual context for your work and position your research with other, related research
  • Provides you with opposing viewpoints
  • Helps you to discover research methods which may be applicable to your work

Greenfield, T. (2016). Research methods for postgraduates. 3rd ed. London: Arnold. (eBook)

Is Your Review Systematic?

Systematic reviews attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. Systematic reviews follow a defined protocol and include a reproducible search methodology, conducted in multiple databases. Retrieved citations are reviewed by multiple people and compared to a predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria. It is not unusual for a systematic review to take 18-24 months to conduct.

If this is the type of review you are interested in conducting, this guide will get you started but contact your Subject Librarian for help with your search. 

People often use the term "systematic review" when they really mean a thorough literature search, that covers multiple databases. This guide will also help you conduct a thorough search.