1. Conduct the literature search
Find out what has been written on your subject. Places to start are:
- Bibliographies and references in key textbooks and recent journal articles. Your supervisor or tutor should tell you which are the key texts and relevant journals.
- Library search
- Databases – not all databases can be searched via Library Search. Consider searching subject specific databases individually to ensure you comprehensively conducting your literature review
- USQ ePrints – USQ’s repository of research
- Google Scholar – can be useful for finding resources, such as conference papers, and research in other universities’ repositories.
Many abstracting journals and electronic databases are available. Subject support is available for databases and bibliographies relevant to your field.
2. Note the bibliographical details
Write down the full bibliographical details of each book or article as soon as you find a reference to it. This will save you an enormous amount of time later on. Referencing management software, such as EndNote, can be useful to manage citation information.
3. Read the literature
Take notes as you read the literature. You are reading to find out how each piece of writing approaches the subject of your research, what it has to say about it, and (especially for research students) how it relates to your own thesis.
Questions to consider include:
- Is it a general textbook or does it deal with a specific issue(s)?
- Does it follow a particular school of thought?
- What is its theoretical basis?
- What definitions does it use?
- What is its general methodological approach? What methods are used?
- What kinds of data does it use to back up its argument?
- What conclusions does it come to?
Other questions may be relevant. It depends on the purpose of the review.
4. Write the review
Having gathered the relevant details about the literature, you now need to write the review. The kind of review you write, and the amount of detail, will depend on the level of your studies.
A literature review synthesises many texts in one paragraph. Each paragraph (or section if it is a long thesis) of the literature review should classify and evaluate a common theme you have discovered in your research which is relevant to your thesis.
Like all academic writing, a literature review should have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
The introduction should include:
- the topic of your thesis
- the parameters of the topic (what it includes and excludes)
- why you have selected the literature.
The body paragraphs could include relevant paragraphs on:
- historical background including classic texts
- current mainstream versus alternative theoretical or ideological viewpoints, including differing theoretical assumptions, differing political outlooks, and other conflicts
- possible approaches to the subject (empirical, philosophical, historical, postmodernist, etc.)
- definitions in use
- current research studies
- current discoveries about the topic
- principal questions that are being asked
- general conclusions that are being drawn
- methodologies and methods in use.
The conclusion should include:
- A summary of major agreements and disagreements in the literature
- A summary of general conclusions that are being drawn
- A summary of where your thesis sits in the literature.