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Conducting a Literature Review

This guide will help you understand what is a Literature Review, why it is important and how it is done.

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:

  1. Choose a broad topic
  2. If necessary, do some preliminary reading to find out about issues related to the topic or interesting subtopics
  3. Narrow down a specific problem, issue, or subtopic to focus on
  4. 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!

Tips:

  • 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.

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.

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?