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Take Your Book Club to the Next Level with These Thought-Provoking Questions
Book clubs are a great way to get together with friends and discuss literature in an engaging and meaningful way. But if you’re looking to take your book club to the next level, it’s important to have thought-provoking questions that will challenge members and create meaningful conversations. Here are some tips and questions to help you get the most out of your book club meetings.
Create a Discussion Plan
Before your meeting, it’s important to create a discussion plan that outlines what topics you want to cover in the meeting. This will help keep the conversation focused and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Consider creating a list of questions that can be used as prompts for discussion. For example, you could ask about characters’ motivations or how the author used symbolism in the book. You could also ask about themes or how the book relates to current events.
Encourage Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions are great for sparking meaningful conversations in book clubs. These types of questions encourage members to think critically and share their own opinions on the text. Try asking questions like “What did you think of X character’s actions?” or “How did this book make you feel?” These types of questions will help members explore their own interpretations of the text and engage in thoughtful conversations with one another.
Focus on Connections
When discussing a book, it can be helpful to focus on connections between characters, themes, and other elements of the text. Ask members how they think certain characters relate to one another or how certain themes are explored throughout the book. This type of question encourages members to think critically about how different elements interact with each other and can lead to interesting conversations about the text as a whole.
Book clubs are a great way for people to come together and discuss literature in an engaging way. By creating a discussion plan, encouraging open-ended questions, and focusing on connections between characters and themes, you can take your book club meetings to the next level and get more out of your literary discussions.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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Conducting a Literature Review: Research Question
- What is a Literature Review?
- Information Resources
- Search Strategy
- Cite Resources
- Read why it is important to develop a good research question.
- Watch a short video to see how concept mapping can help you to identify key concepts that you will use to search for information on your topic.
- Develop a concept map using the worksheet or one of the online mind mapping tools in the Activity box.
Develop a Research Question
Before you can begin your literature review, you will need to select a topic. It is helpful to think about your research topic as a question. For example, instead of a topic like "diversity in the workplace," you could ask, "How does a diverse workplace impact job satisfaction?"
A good research question is manageable in scope - not too broad, but not too narrow. If your topic is too broad, you may become overwhelmed with the amount of information and find it difficult to organize your ideas. If your topic is too narrow, you may not be able to find enough information to include in your literature review.
It is often helpful to start with a broad idea, then narrow your focus by brainstorming related ideas. If you have a general area of interest, you can think about various issues in that general subject area. Do any of your ideas present a puzzle or problem that you are interested in investigating? Are there issues that make you wonder about causes or consequences?
As you brainstorm your topic, you may find it useful to document your ideas using a concept map (watch the videos to learn more about them). As you begin to investigate and evaluate scholarly literature on your topic, you may find it necessary to revise your original research question based on what you learn. Be sure to expand your literature search to include any new concepts you may identify along the way.
Your research question should be clear, focused, and complex enough to allow for adequate research and analysis. Most importantly, your research question should be interesting to you - you will be spending a great deal of time researching and writing so you should be eager to learn more about it.
Your problem statement or research question:
- Interests the reader.
- Describes exactly what you intend to show.
- Explains why your problem is worth addressing.
A good problem statement or research question:
- Comes from a broad subject area that interests you.
- Is narrow enough to allow you to become a local expert on it.
- Is related to ideas that interests other researchers.
- Has available information resources.
Use the concept map handout or one of the free, mind mapping applications to help you brainstorm and develop a research question.
- Concept Map Form and Sample
Learn how concept or mind maps can help your develop a research topic or question.
Ready to Brainstorm? Try this!
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Top 10 Questions for a Complete Literature Review
An excellent literature review integrates information in such a way that it provides a new framework to build upon. It is a way of contextualizing your work and showcasing a bigger picture before you pin down to your research problem. It not only highlights principle issues in your field but also provides new perspectives on the research topic. Careful skimming of literature introduces the readers to relevant terminologies frequently used in context of their work. Literature review assists in recognizing related research findings and relevant theories. Furthermore, it aids in pinpointing the methodologies that one may adopt for research.
5 Steps to Begin the Literature Review
There are five steps that one should follow before preparing to conduct the literature review :
- Identify all the literature relevant to your topic of interest. Explore all the different types of literature including theoretical literature, applied literature, literature that talks about research methods, or a combination thereof.
- Using multiple keywords and strategies capture the most accurate and relevant data. Conduct an extensive search in multi-disciplinary databases.
- Group your findings into a detailed summary of what is known and what needs to be explored.
- Identify existing gaps or any unresolved issues
- Formulate broad questions that warrant further research
How to Best Critique a Research paper
For extracting maximum information from a research paper , researchers must ask the following questions!
- Has the author formulated an appropriate research question based on the problem/issue?
- Is the research question clearly defined in terms of its scope and relevance?
- Was there an alternative or better perspective to approach the research question?
- What is the author’s orientation towards the research problem – is it a critical analysis or interpretation based?
- Has the author extensively evaluated the literature considering both latest and relevant articles?
- How has the author defined the basic components (population, interventions, outcomes) of the study? Are the measurements valid, accurate and statistically significant? Are the conclusions based accurate interpretations of the data?
- Is there an objective based, unbiased reasoning provided for the problem statement or is the author merely attempting to prove his/her preconceived beliefs and opinions?
- How does this article contribute to your understanding of the research problem?
- What are the strengths, limitations and shortcomings of the study?
10 Questions for a Comprehensive Literature Review
1. Do I have clearly defined research aims prior to commencing the review?
It is important to choose a focused question that can efficiently direct your search. It can assist you to create a list of keywords related to your research problem. Furthermore, it helps in identifying relevant databases to search for related journals and articles.
2. Have I correctly identified all the sources that will help me define my problem statement or research question?
Literature is not limited to journal articles, thesis, and dissertations. One should also refer to credible internet sources, conference proceedings that provide latest unpublished papers, as well as government and corporate reports. Books, although do not have latest information, can serve as a good starting point to read background information.
3. Have I considered all kinds of literature – including both qualitative and quantitative research articles?
An exhaustive literature survey helps you position your research within the context of existing literature effectively creating a case as to why further study is necessary. Your search has to be robust enough to ensure that you have browsed through all the relevant and latest articles. Rather than reading everything, researchers must refer and follow the most relevant work!
4. Do I have enough empirical or theoretical evidence to support my hypothesis?
Discovering new patterns and trends becomes easy if you gather credible evidence from earlier works. Furthermore, it helps in rationalizing the significance of your study.
5. Have I identified all the major inconsistencies or other shortcomings related to my research topic?
Researchers should not only refer to articles that present supporting evidence but also focus on those that provide inconclusive or contradictory information. It helps to identify any open questions left by researchers in previous studies.
6. Is my relationship diagram ready?
A relationship diagram is an effective way of recognizing links between different elements of a complex research topic. It is an immensely important tool that helps in clarifying and structuring research specific findings and interpretations at various stages of the project. It is an effective way of representing your current understanding of the research topic. In addition, a good relationship diagram can help you find new insights owing to a clear picture of all the probable relationships between key concepts, variables and key factors.
7. Have I gathered sufficient evidence from the literature about the accuracy and validity of the designs or methods that I plan to use in my experiments?
It is paramount to use methodologies and research techniques that have scientific reliability. Moreover, since methods especially used in qualitative research are often more subjective, it becomes crucial for researchers to reflect on the approach and explain the criteria for selecting a particular method.
8. Have I identified the purpose for which articles have been shortlisted for literature review?
You can expedite your literature writing process if you tag your articles based on its purpose of inclusion in the review report. Following are the tags that can be added to articles:
- Show how latest developments or develop a theoretical base to your study
- Demonstrate limitations, inconsistencies or shortcomings of previous studies
- Critique or support certain methods or findings
- Replicate the study in a different setting (region/population)
- Indicate how the study supports or contradicts your findings
- Use it as a reference to further build your research
- Provide a general understanding of concerns relevant to your research topic
9. Have I recorded all the bibliographic information regarding my information sources?
Recording and cataloguing your bibliographical details and references is absolutely crucial for every researcher. You may use commercial software such as Reference manager, End Note, and Pro Cite to manage your references. Furthermore, you may also keep a record of keyword searches that you have performed.
10. Will my literature review reflect a report that is created after a through critical analysis of the literature?
An excellent literature review must be structured, logical, and coherent. It is a great opportunity to demonstrate that you have critically analyzed and understood the relevant body of literature underpinning your research. It is important to structure your literature into appropriate sections that discuss themes or presents trends. Grouping your literature helps in indicating relationships and making comparisons.
Still have more queries related to literature review and synthesis? Post your queries here and our experts will be happy to answer them! You can also visit our Q&A forum for frequently asked questions related to research writing and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.
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Define your research question.
- What is a literature review?
- Steps in the Literature Review Process
- Determine inclusion and exclusion criteria
- Choose databases and search
- Review Results
- Synthesize Results
- Analyze Results
- Librarian Support
Defining your research question is the key to beginning, so while you may be clear on the area you want to study, chances are there are some nuances that you need to think through.
Part of this process may require exploratory searching in databases so that you can see what's already been published on your topic. Even if it's a new area, it's likely something has already been published in at least an adjacent area of study.
Some things to consider:
- What is my central question or issue that the literature can help define?
- What is already known about the topic?
- Is the scope of the literature being reviewed wide or narrow enough?
- Is there a conflict or debate in the literature?
- What connections can be made between the texts being reviewed?
- What sort of literature should be reviewed? Historical? Theoretical? Methodological? Quantitative? Qualitative?
- What criteria should be used to evaluate the literature being reviewed?
- How will reviewing the literature justify the topic I plan to investigate?
For more on the research question: https://writingcenter.gmu.edu/guides/how-to-write-a-research-question
Video on Defining the Research Question
When you pick your topic, it's not set in stone. Picking and adjusting your topic is an integral part of the research process! This video is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license. (3 minutes)
- Last Updated: Oct 26, 2022 2:49 PM
- URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/literaturereviews
- Getting Started
- Choosing a Type of Review
Developing a Research Question
Finding example literature reviews.
- Searching the Literature
- Searching Tips
- ChatGPT [beta]
- Documenting your Search
- Using Citation Managers
- Writing the Review
- Further Resources
UM Librarians have developed a quick tool called Goldilocker to help beginners who are struggling to refine their Research Question.
DEVELOPING A RESEARCH QUESTION
Before searching for sources, you need to formulate a Research Question — this is what you are trying to answer using the existing academic literature. The Research Question pinpoints the focus of the review .
Your first step involves choosing, exploring, and focusing a topic. At this stage you might discover that you need to tweak your topic or the scope of your research as you learn more about the topic in the literature.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- The question must be "researchable" — it can be answered with accessible facts and data
- Questions often start with How, Why, What, Which
- The question opens the door for other areas of inquiry — it identifies a gap in existing research
- Questions should be open-ended and focus on cause and effect
TRY TO AVOID:
- Simple yes/no questions, or questions with an easy answer (what is the radius of the moon?)
- Questions that can only be answered by an opinion (does it smell nice when it rains?)
- Questions that involve secret information (what is the recipe for Coca-Cola?)
- Questions that are too broad or too narrow
REFINING YOUR RESEARCH QUESTION
Two examples of refining research questions that could be considered either too broad or too narrow.
USING DATABASE FILTER TOOLS
It can be helpful to read existing literature reviews on your topic to get an idea of major themes, how authors structure their arguments, or what reviews look like in your discipline.
DOCUMENT TYPE FILTERS
Many library databases have the option to highlight just Review Articles after you perform a search. Filters above show what the Document Type filter looks like, with a "Review" option. These examples are from Scopus and ProQuest. The "Review" filter here refers to free-standing, comprehensive Review Articles on a topic, as opposed to a shorter literature review inside a scholarly article.
LIT REVIEWS INSIDE ARTICLES
It is also worth taking a look at the shorter literature reviews inside scholarly articles. These can sometimes be called "Background" or "Background Literature." Look for a section typically following the Introduction that covers the history or gives context on the paper's topic.
EXAMPLE REVIEW ARTICLES
Here are a few examples of Review Articles in different disciplines. Note sometimes an article can be a Review Article without the word "review" in the title.
HUMANITIES — Art — " Art and Crime: Conceptualising Graffiti in the City " from the journal Geography Compass
SCIENCES — Climate Change — " Mercury Isotopes in Earth and Environmental Sciences " from the journal Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
SOCIAL SCIENCES — Psychology — " Structural Competency and the Future of Firearm Research " from the journal Social Science & Medicine
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How to Write a Literature Review
- 1. Identify the Question
- Literature Reviews: A Recap
- Reading Journal Articles
- Does it Describe a Literature Review?
Identify the question
Developing a research question.
- 2. Review Discipline Styles
- Searching Article Databases
- Finding Full-Text of an Article
- Citation Chaining
- When to Stop Searching
- 4. Manage Your References
- 5. Critically Analyze and Evaluate
- 6. Synthesize
- 7. Write a Literature Review
From Topic to Question (Infographic)
This graphic emphasizes how reading various sources can play a role in defining your research topic.
( Click to Enlarge Image )
Text description of "From Topic to Question" for web accessibility
In some cases, such as for a course assignment or a research project you're working on with a faculty mentor, your research question will be determined by your professor. If that's the case, you can move on to the next step . Otherwise, you may need to explore questions on your own.
A few suggestions
Photo Credit: UO Libraries
According to The Craft of Research (2003) , a research question is more than a practical problem or something with a yes/no answer. A research question helps you learn more about something you don't already know and it needs to be significant enough to interest your readers.
Your Curiosity + Significance to Others = Research Question
How to get started.
In a research paper, you develop a unique question and then synthesize scholarly and primary sources into a paper that supports your argument about the topic.
- Identify your Topic (This is the starting place from where you develop a research question.)
- Refine by Searching (find background information) (Before you can start to develop a research question, you may need to do some preliminary background research to see (1) what has already been done on the topic and (2) what are the issues surrounding the topic.) HINT: Find background information in Google and Books.
- Refine by Narrowing (Once you begin to understand the topic and the issues surrounding it, you can start to narrow your topic and develop a research question. Do this by asking the 6 journalistic question words.
Ask yourself these 6 questions
These 6 journalistic question words can help you narrow your focus from a broad topic to a specific question.
Who : Are you interested in a specific group of people? Can your topic be narrowed by gender, sex, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status or something else? Are there any key figures related to your topic?
What : What are the issues surrounding your topic? Are there subtopics? In looking at background information, did you notice any gaps or questions that seemed unanswered?
Where : Can your topic be narrowed down to a geographic location? Warning: Don't get too narrow here. You might not be able to find enough information on a town or state.
When : Is your topic current or historical? Is it confined to a specific time period? Was there a causative event that led your topic to become an area of study?
Why : Why are you interested in this topic? Why should others be interested?
How : What kinds of information do you need? Primary sources, statistics? What is your methodology?
Detailed description of, "Developing a Research Question" for web accessibility
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The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It
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What is a review of the literature?
A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. Occasionally you will be asked to write one as a separate assignment (sometimes in the form of an annotated bibliography —see the bottom of the next page), but more often it is part of the introduction to an essay, research report, or thesis. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries
Besides enlarging your knowledge about the topic, writing a literature review lets you gain and demonstrate skills in two areas
- information seeking : the ability to scan the literature efficiently, using manual or computerized methods, to identify a set of useful articles and books
- critical appraisal : the ability to apply principles of analysis to identify unbiased and valid studies.
A literature review must do these things
- be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
- synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
- identify areas of controversy in the literature
- formulate questions that need further research
Ask yourself questions like these:
- What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question that my literature review helps to define?
- What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research (e.g. on the effectiveness of a new procedure)? qualitative research (e.g., studies of loneliness among migrant workers)?
- What is the scope of my literature review? What types of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)? What discipline am I working in (e.g., nursing psychology, sociology, medicine)?
- How good was my information seeking ? Has my search been wide enough to ensure I’ve found all the relevant material? Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material? Is the number of sources I’ve used appropriate for the length of my paper?
- Have I critically analysed the literature I use? Do I follow through a set of concepts and questions, comparing items to each other in the ways they deal with them? Instead of just listing and summarizing items, do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?
- Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?
- Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and useful ?
Ask yourself questions like these about each book or article you include:
- Has the author formulated a problem/issue?
- Is it clearly defined? Is its significance (scope, severity, relevance) clearly established?
- Could the problem have been approached more effectively from another perspective?
- What is the author’s research orientation (e.g., interpretive, critical science, combination)?
- What is the author’s theoretical framework (e.g., psychological, developmental, feminist)?
- What is the relationship between the theoretical and research perspectives?
- Has the author evaluated the literature relevant to the problem/issue? Does the author include literature taking positions she or he does not agree with?
- In a research study, how good are the basic components of the study design (e.g., population, intervention, outcome)? How accurate and valid are the measurements? Is the analysis of the data accurate and relevant to the research question? Are the conclusions validly based upon the data and analysis?
- In material written for a popular readership, does the author use appeals to emotion, one-sided examples, or rhetorically-charged language and tone? Is there an objective basis to the reasoning, or is the author merely “proving” what he or she already believes?
- How does the author structure the argument? Can you “deconstruct” the flow of the argument to see whether or where it breaks down logically (e.g., in establishing cause-effect relationships)?
- In what ways does this book or article contribute to our understanding of the problem under study, and in what ways is it useful for practice? What are the strengths and limitations?
- How does this book or article relate to the specific thesis or question I am developing?
A literature review is a piece of discursive prose , not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. It’s usually a bad sign to see every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question
If you are writing an annotated bibliography , you may need to summarize each item briefly, but should still follow through themes and concepts and do some critical assessment of material. Use an overall introduction and conclusion to state the scope of your coverage and to formulate the question, problem, or concept your chosen material illuminates. Usually you will have the option of grouping items into sections—this helps you indicate comparisons and relationships. You may be able to write a paragraph or so to introduce the focus of each section
This handout and many others are available in Writing in the Health Sciences: a comprehensive guide .
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- Developing your research question
- Literature Review
Developing the research question
Preliminary investigation, evaluating your research question, narrowing or broadening the research question.
- Managing your search results
- Reading critically
- Synthesizing your findings
- Writing the review
- Researcher Tool Kit
Start the process by:
- considering a broad topic of research interest and then write it down
- considering specific areas you wish to examine within this topic
- considering key themes and elements of these specific topics to investigate in depth
- considering how to work these key areas and elements into your research question.
Bear in mind that your supervisors will be looking for the following elements in your research question proposal:
- What new knowledge will be generated for the discipline?
- Why is it valuable?
- How can the reader be assured the conclusions will be valid?
- How will you present your findings?
- Framing your research question This guide outlines a number of frameworks you can use to clarify and develop your research question.
The next step is to undertake a preliminary investigation on your research topic. You need to be sure that there is not already a wealth of information in the area and that a gap exists for the research you wish to conduct.
The preliminary investigation will help you to refine your topic area.
If your preliminary investigation into the literature is inconclusive or you cannot make headway then it is time to re-evaluate your research question. Try to answer the following questions:
- With so much research available on any given topic, research questions must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in helping the writer direct their research
- Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available
- Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts and should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer
York University, 2013 "Research Question Info Sheet".
Checklist of evaluation questions
To continue with this idea, use this checklist to evaluate your question:
- Is the research question something others care about?
- Is it arguable?
- Is the research question a new spin on an old idea, or does it solve a problem?
- Is the question too broad or too narrow?
- Is there any ambiguity to the question?
- Is the research question researchable within the given time frame and location?
- What information is needed to answer the question?
Adapted from Duke Writing Studio: Duke University Thompson Writing Program, 2015 "What makes a good research question?"
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
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- Likert scales
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- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
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- Cognitive bias
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- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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Conducting a Literature Review
- Getting Started
- Define your Research Question
- Finding Sources
- Evaluating Sources
- Organizing the Review
- Cite and Manage your Sources
- Developing Research Questions by Monash University
- Developing Strong Research Questions by Scribbr
- Formulating Your Research Question by Vanderbilt University
- Narrowing a Topic and Developing a Research Question by Indiana University
Develop your Research Question
Before you can begin your literature review, you will need to select a topic. It is helpful to think about your research topic as a question. For example, instead of a topic like "diversity", you could ask "How do diversity training programs impact hiring practices in retail organizations?"
A good research question is manageable in scope - not too broad, but not too narrow. If your topic is too broad, you may become overwhelmed and find it difficult to organize your ideas. If your topic is too narrow, you may not be able to find enough information to include in your literature review.
As the video below describes in further detail , a good research question should be focused on a single problem or issue, researchable using college resources, feasible within the constraints of your assignment, specific enough to find relevant sources about, complex enough to require thoughtful analysis, and relevant to your interests and/or field of study.
Developing a Research Question - General Tips
It is often helpful to start with a broad idea, then narrow your focus by brainstorming related ideas. If you have a general area of interest, you can think about various issues in that general subject area. Do any of your ideas present a puzzle or problem that you are interested in investigating? Are there issues that make you wonder about causes or consequences?
The general steps of a research question, explained in detail in the below video, are:
- Choose a broad topic
- If necessary, do some preliminary reading to find out about issues related to the topic or interesting subtopics
- Narrow down a specific problem, issue, or subtopic to focus on
- Looking at this narrower topic, come up with a question that could guide your research going forward
Your Research Question and the Literature Review
Your literature review should be guided by a central research question. Remember, it is not a collection of loosely related studies in a field but instead represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.
As you begin to investigate and evaluate scholarly literature on your topic, you may find it necessary to revise your original research question based on what you learn. Be sure to expand your literature search to include any new concepts you may identify along the way !
- Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow. Is it manageable?
- Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
- If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor.
How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover?
Tip: This may depend on your assignment. How many sources does the assignment require?
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Formulating a research question
- What are systematic reviews?
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- Identifying studies
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Clarifying the review question leads to specifying what type of studies can best address that question and setting out criteria for including such studies in the review. This is often called inclusion criteria or eligibility criteria. The criteria could relate to the review topic, the research methods of the studies, specific populations, settings, date limits, geographical areas, types of interventions, or something else.
Systematic reviews address clear and answerable research questions, rather than a general topic or problem of interest. They also have clear criteria about the studies that are being used to address the research questions. This is often called inclusion criteria or eligibility criteria.
Six examples of types of question are listed below, and the examples show different questions that a review might address based on the topic of influenza vaccination. Structuring questions in this way aids thinking about the different types of research that could address each type of question. Mneumonics can help in thinking about criteria that research must fulfil to address the question. The criteria could relate to the context, research methods of the studies, specific populations, settings, date limits, geographical areas, types of interventions, or something else.
Examples of review questions
- Needs - What do people want? Example: What are the information needs of healthcare workers regarding vaccination for seasonal influenza?
- Impact or effectiveness - What is the balance of benefit and harm of a given intervention? Example: What is the effectiveness of strategies to increase vaccination coverage among healthcare workers. What is the cost effectiveness of interventions that increase immunisation coverage?
- Process or explanation - Why does it work (or not work)? How does it work (or not work)? Example: What factors are associated with uptake of vaccinations by healthcare workers? What factors are associated with inequities in vaccination among healthcare workers?
- Correlation - What relationships are seen between phenomena? Example: How does influenza vaccination of healthcare workers vary with morbidity and mortality among patients? (Note: correlation does not in itself indicate causation).
- Views / perspectives - What are people's experiences? Example: What are the views and experiences of healthcare workers regarding vaccination for seasonal influenza?
- Service implementation - What is happening? Example: What is known about the implementation and context of interventions to promote vaccination for seasonal influenza among healthcare workers?
Examples in practice : Seasonal influenza vaccination of health care workers: evidence synthesis / Loreno et al. 2017
Example of eligibility criteria
Research question: What are the views and experiences of UK healthcare workers regarding vaccination for seasonal influenza?
- Population: healthcare workers, any type, including those without direct contact with patients.
- Context: seasonal influenza vaccination for healthcare workers.
- Study design: qualitative data including interviews, focus groups, ethnographic data.
- Date of publication: all.
- Country: all UK regions.
- Studies focused on influenza vaccination for general population and pandemic influenza vaccination.
- Studies using survey data with only closed questions, studies that only report quantitative data.
Consider the research boundaries
It is important to consider the reasons that the research question is being asked. Any research question has ideological and theoretical assumptions around the meanings and processes it is focused on. A systematic review should either specify definitions and boundaries around these elements at the outset, or be clear about which elements are undefined.
For example if we are interested in the topic of homework, there are likely to be pre-conceived ideas about what is meant by 'homework'. If we want to know the impact of homework on educational attainment, we need to set boundaries on the age range of children, or how educational attainment is measured. There may also be a particular setting or contexts: type of school, country, gender, the timeframe of the literature, or the study designs of the research.
Research question: What is the impact of homework on children's educational attainment?
- Scope : Homework - Tasks set by school teachers for students to complete out of school time, in any format or setting.
- Population: children aged 5-11 years.
- Outcomes: measures of literacy or numeracy from tests administered by researchers, school or other authorities.
- Study design: Studies with a comparison control group.
- Context: OECD countries, all settings within mainstream education.
- Date Limit: 2007 onwards.
- Any context not in mainstream primary schools.
- Non-English language studies.
Mneumonics for structuring questions
Some mnemonics that sometimes help to formulate research questions, set the boundaries of question and inform a search strategy.
PICO Population – Intervention– Outcome– Comparison
Variations: add T on for time, or ‘C’ for context, or S’ for study type,
Policy and management issues
ECLIPSE : Expectation – Client group – Location – Impact ‐ Professionals involved – Service
Expectation encourages reflection on what the information is needed for i.e. improvement, innovation or information. Impact looks at what you would like to achieve e.g. improve team communication .
- How CLIP became ECLIPSE: a mnemonic to assist in searching for health policy/management information / Wildridge & Bell, 2002
Analysis tool for management and organisational strategy
PESTLE: Political – Economic – Social – Technological – Environmental ‐ Legal
An analysis tool that can be used by organizations for identifying external factors which may influence their strategic development, marketing strategies, new technologies or organisational change.
- PESTLE analysis / CIPD, 2010
Service evaluations with qualitative study designs
SPICE: Setting (context) – Perspective– Intervention – Comparison – Evaluation
Perspective relates to users or potential users. Evaluation is how you plan to measure the success of the intervention.
- Clear and present questions: formulating questions for evidence based practice / Booth, 2006
Read more about some of the frameworks for constructing review questions:
- Formulating the Evidence Based Practice Question: A Review of the Frameworks / Davis, 2011
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- Last Updated: Nov 8, 2023 10:55 AM
- URL: https://library-guides.ucl.ac.uk/systematic-reviews