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Literature Reviews

Resources and tips to help you write an academic Literature Review.

Choices Choices...

Image of a cartoon human figure holding a huge, giant-size hand-held magnifying glass.

The first step in any literature review is choosing a topic and there are two important factors to keep in mind when doing this.

1. Your own interests – It’s always best to choose a topic that you find interesting. This will make your work more enjoyable and ultimately more rewarding.

2. The scholarly significance of your topic – You want to make sure that the topic you choose has been researched by others so that you’ll be able to find relevant articles to review. Having the most interesting topic in the world won’t help you write a literature review if no one else has written about it.

It might even be a good idea to come up with a few different ideas and do some preliminary research on each. That way if you find that your first choice topic hasn’t been explored much you’ll have something to fall back on.

Refining Your Topic

If your topic is too broad consider ways that you can limit it.  Can you focus on a specific date range or gender?  What about a geographic location?  See if you can identify an individual aspect of the topic that particularly interests you.

If your topic is too narrow, think about related issues.  How can you take the topic you currently have and expand it without losing relevance?    

Determining the Scope

Almost as important as choosing your topic is determining the topic’s scope.  Choosing a topic that is too broad will make it very difficult to perform a comprehensive review of the research that has been done on that topic.  Similarly, choosing a topic that is too narrow will make it difficult to find enough significant research and impossible to see trends in the scholarship. 

Once you choose a topic and start your research you will almost certainly find that your topic changes a bit as you start to see what’s out there.  As your tweaking your topic think about the following factors:

        How long your review needs to be

        How many sources you’re supposed to use

        Any limitations your professor has given you such as:

              Only use sources published before/after a certain date

              Only use sources from peer reviewed journals

              Only use electronic sources