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Conduct a Literature Review: What is a Literature Review?

Learn how to conduct and write literature reviews.

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review discusses previous research, and it can be either part of a research article or a standalone document. Researchers use literature reviews to position their research in an ongoing scholarly conversation and it informs their audience of what other research has been done.

How do I write a literature review?

Before you begin writing a literature review, follow these steps:

Identify your research topic →  Find relevant sourcesRead efficientlyDraw connections between sources

Each of these steps are outlined below.

Identify your research topic

Before you can begin finding sources, you want to identify your research topic. Whether you're just beginning to think about your research interests, or you've already developed a research question, check out these tools to narrow your research focus.

Find relevant sources

Use the following tools to find relevant resources:

  • Librarians have developed curated Research Guides that groups relevant databases, books, and other sources based on subject area.
  • Look at other literature reviews and use bibliographies of articles you've found to locate other relevant articles.
    • Check out our guide Use Reference Lists to Find More Sources which will explain how to use reference lists of sources you already have to find additional sources as well as using Google Scholar to conduct "cited by" searching.

Expand your perspective to find sources and understand voices that might be missing from your literature review. Watch this short video called Expanding Perspectives in Your Search (created by the WI+RE team at UCLA Libraries), for more information.

Read efficiently

Writing a literature review means doing a lot of reading! Use these strategies to help you improve your reading efficiency, minimize distraction, and avoid burnout.

  • Reading Strategies Playlist: This guide created by the Writing Instruction + Research Education staff at the UCLA library walks you through a few reading strategies that can help you build your own toolkit.
  • Keep track of your sources by writing down a list of all the articles you read, or use a citation manager. Our citation guides can help you.

Tip: Abstracts will give you a broad overview of an article and are especially useful when conducting a literature review.

Draw connections between sources

View the video (from the WI+RE team at UCLA Libraries) below for tips on drawing conclusions between sources you find in preparation for writing a literature review.

Key takeaways:

  • Read and critically examine the articles about your topic.
    • Analyze articles for strengths and weaknesses.
  • Pick out concepts as you read the articles and then identify which articles share in these concepts.
    • These concepts will become the basis for writing your literature review.
  • Avoid summarizing what you learn -- your literature review should include your own thoughts and ideas.

Helpful tool:

A Synthesis Matrix is an organizational tool that can provide you with a visual representation of your collected sources. This tool will help you compare, contrast, and categorize your articles based on key concepts, main themes, or ideas. Download the synthesis matrix template here.

Information on this guide was taken from Writing a Literature Review by Kian Ravaei and Taylor Harber from the Writing Instruction + Research Education at UCLA. All content is under a Creative Commons license