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Ekstrom Library

Library Support for Summer Research Opportunity Program: Conducting a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

Some of you may plan to conduct a literature review for your summer research. A literature review is an overview of existing research that also positions your research within a larger scholarly conversation. In other words, what is already being said about your topic and how does your research contribute? The steps below will guide you in conducting a comprehensive literature review.

The literature review process

1. Strategize: Brainstorm keywords and relevant subject databases.

Write down your research question and brainstorm keywords you could use to search in databases. Consider keywords that broaden and narrow your research question. Go to the Subject Guides and write down subject areas that are relevant to your research question. What disciplines are publishing research about your topic?

  • Research question: What role do video games play in math education?
  • Keywords: video games, math education
  • Others: computer games, online games, mathematics, geometry, calculus, elementary school, high school, student learning, test scores
  • Subjects: Education, Engineering & Technology, Mathematics

2. Search: Get the most out of your search by utilizing database tools.

Use the search tools from the previous page of this guide (library databases, the catalog, Google Scholar) to search using your keywords. Here are some tips for getting the most out of databases:

  • Use Boolean operators
    • teaching AND technology will give you results that talk about both teaching and technology
    • teaching OR technology will give you results that talk about teaching and results that talk about technology, but not necessarily together
    • teaching NOT technology will give you results that talk about teaching but do not talk about technology
  • Use quotation marks
    • teaching tools may give you results about teaching and results about tools
    • "teaching tools" will give you results about that specific phrase
  • Use truncation
    • immuni* will give you results that talk about immunity, immunization, immunisation, and any other words with that root

3. Stay organized: Take notes and consider Endnote or Zotero.

Take notes of the main points in each article you read. Consider using a literature review matrix like the ones on this page to stay organized.

Endnote is another powerful tool for staying organized. Endnote is a citation management software where you can collect all of your citations in one place. Check out this page to get started with Endnote and sign up for an Endnote class with a librarian. (Zotero is a free citation management software that the library also supports.)

  • Tip: Look for an "Export" option in library databases where you can export citations directly to Endnote.

4. Follow the conversation: Track citations.

Look through the cited references of the articles you find to locate even more great articles.

5. Use Google Scholar: Tie up loose ends and find cited articles.

After searching in all relevant library databases, search in Google Scholar to see if there's anything you missed. You can also use Google Scholar to find newer articles relevant to your topic with the Cited by feature. Simply copy and paste an older article title into Google Scholar, then click Cited by to find newer articles that have cited back to the original article.

6. Get help: Make an appointment with a librarian.

Librarians can help with any part of the research process, from brainstorming keywords to choosing databases to search in to searching and finding information. Get in contact with us here:

7. Check yourself: Have you conducted a comprehensive search?

Ask yourself these questions to make sure you've conducted a thorough review of the literature:

  • Have I searched all the major databases relevant to my area of interest?
  • Am I seeing the same authors/sources over and over again?
  • Have I checked through the references of the sources I've found?
  • Have I used Google Scholar to see if I missed anything and to follow the conversation forward?
  • Have I talked to a librarian?