Writing a Great Literature Review


A literature review is a critical summary of all the published works on a particular topic. Conducting a comprehensive literature review is an essential step in research; however, some students have a hard time finding information about their topic. Most of the time, this problem exists because their search strategy is incorrect. These tips should help you write that shining literature review: broaden your search area, use the correct keywords, explore the articles you do find in depth, follow the citations of the articles you find, and ask for help.

Broadening Your Search Area

You have been thinking about your research question for a long time. So, it is possible that your thinking might be too narrow. You may have drawn very tight mental borders around your research question. As a result, you might not be able to see other research areas that might be relevant to your paper.

Using Correct Keywords

One of the problems in your search for relevant sources could be irrelevant or unrelated keywords. Your keywords should be well defined and specifically targeted to the research papers you are looking for. Once you have your research questions, identify its main concepts, and then define keywords for each concept. For instance, if you are interested in searching mental health among Native Americans, you could use keywords such as mental health, depression, anxiety, Native American mental health, depression in Native Americans, anxiety in Native Americans, or symptoms of mental illness in Native Americans.

If you are conducting your search on Google and want to make the search more specific, enclose your keywords or key phrases in double quotation marks. This will help you retrieve only those pages that contain your key terms in the sequence specified by you. If your keywords are not enclosed, changing the order of the keywords also retrieves different search results. In other words, mental health in Native Americans” and “Native American depression symptoms” would give you differing search results. If you’re still finding trouble finding relevant literature, you could also expand your keyword list by using synonyms and alternate phrases for each key term.

Exploring Articles in Depth

Having a limited number of references might work to your benefit—you get a short but comprehensive list of articles that you can explore in detail. You can spend time going over on the details of each article because you do not have an exhaustive list of references to go through.

In addition, if there are few sources in your specific research area, then it is possible that many fundamental questions haven’t been addressed and answered yet. If this is the case, then you could find limitations in the existing literature and use them to build or enhance your own research question.

Following Article Citations

 There are two ways to follow an article’s citations—forward searching and backward searching. If you have managed to find a couple of relevant articles, you could look at the reference lists of these articles. This is one way of finding more relevant articles, you could look at the reference lists of these articles. This is one way of finding more relevant articles pertaining to your research area and is known as backward searching.

Alternatively, you could also check the article that have cited the papers that you initially found. This is known as forward searching and could help you find articles that weren’t accessible through your keyword search. Finally, you could check other papers published by the authors of the papers you have found. This will help you build references.

Asking for Help

 Start by speaking with the librarian at your university and ask him/her if they have a subscription to a journal you need. If you have found a few articles, then identify the journal they were published in, and seek it out for similar articles. You could also ask a professor. Having gone through a similar plight as the one you are currently facing, they will have a few tricks up their sleeve. It is perfectly fine to ask them to guide you in the right direction when you find yourself stuck.

Use Research Forums

 You could also explore research forums and groups such as ResearchGate and Quora, which are virtual spaces specially designed for researchers. You can interact with other researchers and request them for journal articles that you are unable to find. Similarly, you could return the favor by sharing articles when other researchers are in need.  Remember that the person sharing the article should have its copyright.

If you are stuck while reviewing the literature, it is unlikely that a lack of previously published research papers is holding you back. When you cannot find relevant literature in your immediate search area, you should always ask yourself, “What else is important?” In such a situation, all you need to do is to identify all possible areas that could be linked to your research questions and list those that might be relevant to your own paper. This will help you either find references or build on the ones you have already found.

Ultimately, this approach will result in a comprehensive, well-documented review of existing literature in your area of interest. 

 Literature Review, citations, Google, help, keywords, research forums, search.











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