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How to do a literature review: Getting Started

What is a Literature Review ?

General Considerations

  • A literature review is usually a process that gathers information on a topic from numerous information sources related to that topic.  The majority if not all of that information is found in "published works".
  • Often that process results in a written product about that topic, and that product is disseminated or shared with others.
  • Know your "end product". Literature reviews can introduce (or be sections of) larger projects. Literature reviews can also be stand-alone end products. So, your finished document can be an introduction, paper, chapter, article, etc. 
  • Find examples of what you will end up with. See examples at the left and in the Finding Examples box below.
  • Document your process, results, ideas, the changes you make, and what your reasons are for your process, steps, changes, etc.  More about this under "Managing the Review".
  • The steps below look sequential. However, it is often an iterative process. That is, you may “circle back to redo or modify earlier steps”. You may also be working on a number of “steps” at the same time. 

General Steps

  • State your research topic (or question); or, make a first attempt to get the process going. 
  • Clarify what the review is for. For example, is it for “background”, or a “pro and con discussion”, "integration", “summarizing”, etc. You may have several purposes.
  • Develop a starting 'search plan'. What strategies are you going to use to find information?
  • Do your search and choose sources that seem to have information on your topic.
  • Choose the exact information you want to use, to discuss, or to develop in your review. 
  • Write drafts of 'the paper'...the review. You work with the information you selected to develop the 'review' (e.g., summarize, synthesize, etc.).  And you cite the sources used.


Find examples and use these as models for the product you want to end up with. See strategies below.


At Kent State

  1. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses @ Kent State University A database of access to full text of theses and dissertations.
  2. Browse KSU Dissertations.
  3. Browse KSU Masters Theses. Some of these are honors papers. 

In Ohio

  1. Search the OhioLINK ETD Center to read theses and dissertations Ohio universities online.
  2. Do an Advanced Keyword Search in the OhioLINK catalog. Type in term(s) (e.g., Biological), choose THESIS/DISS as an "Other Material Type" pull down limit, then click "Submit" button. 

Outside of Ohio 

  1. To identify dissertations and theses click and use the "Dissertations and Theses tab after you connect to the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses database. 
  2. Use the WorldCat Dissertations database.


 See strategies below.  Also, always consider consulting with a subject librarian for ideas on names of journals in your subject area that have review articles.

  1. Use article databases to identify literature reviews.
    Example: PubMed: Do a topical search. Then filter your results to Review and/or Systematic Reviews using the choices on the left side of the screen.
    Example: PsycINFO (EBSCO): Type search terms, then choose Literature review, Systematic review, or Meta-analysis from the Methodology box on the page. Then run search.
  2. Explore reviews in the annual publication Annual Reviews


Planning - Sample Initial Dissertation Questions

In planning your review, in addition to finding and analyzing the reviews in dissertations in your field at KSU, you might ask yourself questions from other guides such as the following:

  • 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?

 From: Writing the successful thesis and dissertation: entering the conversation,

by Irene L. Clark

You can read this book online through the KSU Library catalog!