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Literature Review: Research

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See What Has Been Done

Look for other literature reviews in your topic area or in the discipline to gain perspective on the types of themes you might explore in your own research.

To locate other Literature Reviews using individual Research Databases add the term "literature review" to your search terms.

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Narrow Your Topic

The narrower the scope of your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you will need to get a good survey of the literature. When a topic is too broad, you could be overwhelmed by the thousands of books and articles that fill your search results.

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Is It Current?

Does It Need to Be?

In some disciplines, especially the sciences, you need to make sure the information is as current as possible due to the constantly changing problems and solutions covered in the latest research. In other disciplines, such as the humanities, a survey of historical literature may be what is needed.

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Clarify Your Assignment

Be sure to review your assignment for specific requirements or check with your instructor when unsure:

  • How many sources should you include?
  • What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites, etc.)?
  • Should you provide a summary, syntheses, or critique of your sources?
  • Should you conduct an evaluation your sources?

Have a Precise Topic
It is essential that one defines a research topic very carefully. For example, it should not be too far-reaching. The following is much too broad:

• "Life and Times of Sigmund Freud."

However, this is more focused and specific and, accordingly, a more appropriate topic:

• "An Analysis of the Relationship of Freud and Jung in the International Psychoanalytic Association, 1910-1914"

Limitations of Study

In specifying precisely one's research topic, one is also specifying appropriate limitations on the research. Limiting, for example, by time, personnel, gender, age, location, nationality etc. results in a more focused and meaningful topic.

Scope of the Literature Review
It is also important to determine the precise scope of the literature review. For example,

  • What exactly will you cover in your review?
  • How comprehensive will it be?
  • How long? About how many citations will you use?
  • How detailed? Will it be a review of ALL relevant material or will the scope be limited to more recent material, e.g., the last five years.
  • Are you focusing on methodological approaches; on theoretical issues; on qualitative or quantitative research?
  • Will you broaden your search to seek literature in related disciplines?
  • Will you confine your reviewed material to English language only or will you include research in other languages too?