Education: Starting a Literature Review

What's a Literature Review?

A Literature Review...

  • Provides comprehensive discussion of the scholarly research that has already been done on a topic.
  • Includes some summary of important articles on a topic.
  • Includes comparison: between how different authors discuss the same topic and how the topic has been handled over time.
  • Synthesizes previous ideas on a topic, but also looks for gaps in the literature: what needs to be investigated further?

What Should a Literature Review Do?

A Literature Review should...

  • Relate directly and clearly to your thesis or research question.
  • Synthesize and contextualize results, not just report them.
  • Identify areas of controversy in the literature.
  • Formulate questions that need further research.

Adapted from “The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It”, by Dena Taylor and Margaret Procter, University of Toronto: (file linked below)

Literature Review Search Strategies

Strategies for a literature review search...

  • Comb through bibliographies of relevant journal articles and books. You'll probably start to see patterns: authors, journals, and themes that show up over and over.
  • Find Full Text through the Library: If you find an article in a bibliography that you’d like to access, look for the journal name (not the article name), and follow the steps outlined under the Finding Full-text Material tab in our How to find Full Text Guide.
  • Can't get the article you need in full text through PSU? Don't Despair: Try Interlibrary Loan!
  • Find out who cited an article, and how many times it was cited, through Google Scholar. This will show you how influential an article was and gives you more articles and authors to investigate.
  • Learn How to Gut a Book -- in other words, how to get the most out of a book in the most efficient manner (i.e. it may not be necessary to read an entire book, word for word, taking diligent notes in order to get the gist of the book for use in a literature review).


Journal Ranking, Publication Outlets, Scholarly Communication

What are the top journals in your field? Which journals are the best for your topic?

The following resources can help you answer the following questions, which can be helpful to consider when performing a literature review:

Cited Reference Search

How many times has one of the articles you're using in your literature review been cited?

The answer to that question can tell you not only how influential an article has been, but can lead you to more articles on your topic. Use the following to find out how many times the article you're using has been cited:

Getting Started With Research: Tutorials

Need more help getting started with research? Check out the Library's video tutorials and playlists .

Please also feel free to contact a librarian .

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students

This excellent overview of the literature review explains what a literature review and outlines processes and best practices for doing one. It includes input from an NCSU professor on what a literature review is and what it should do. (Shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US license, attributed to North Carolina State University Libraries).

Writing the Literature Review: Part 1

Here's another excellent tutorial on what a literature review is and how to write it, in two parts, from David Taylor at the University of Maryland University College's Writing Program.

Writing the Literature Review: Part 2

Here's part two of David Taylor's "Writing the Literature Review" tutorial, from the University of Maryland University College's Writing Program.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar has been customized by the PSU library to find some full-text articles at PSU!

Google Scholar can be extremely helpful in finding out how many times an article has been cited and who cited an article. This can help you determine how important an article is and which other authors you may want to investigate.

Make sure you're checking your discipline's databases as well, for fuller, more complete scholarly coverage of the journal articles on your topic. 

PDX Scholar

It can be helpful to look at the work of your peers to get a sense of how certain kinds of writing and research is done, including the literature review.

You can look at the full text of past dissertations, research, and other scholarly work from PSU students and faculty in the library's digital repository, PDXScholar.