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Literature Reviews

This guide will introduce you to how to conduct an effective literature review.

Getting Acquainted with the Literature and Identifying Gaps

In addition to the suggestions on this page, you can narrow down your research question by getting a better understanding of the literature in your field and what gaps exist in the research.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Read recent issues of the top scholarly journals in your field. Not sure what those are? Ask your professor/advisor, or you can use tools like Journal Citation Reports (below) to identify top journals by impact factor.
  • Read Calls for Papers in your field. Most journals, conferences, and book editors promote requests for proposals for upcoming publications or presentations, which will give you an idea of the scope for what they are looking for and may also present current themes of interest to researchers in your discipline. If you are a member of a professional organization for your area, these organizations usually share those calls to their members as well.
  • Identify and read seminal works in your field. Your professors may be able to point you to important works you should know about, and reading these may give you an idea for how you might build on that previous research.
  • Talk to your professor/advisor/editor. They might have suggestions for what angle you might take for your literature review.


What Is a Researchable Topic?

A good literature review begins with a good research question. What makes a good research question? Something answerable by more than a yes or no answer. For example, climate change is an okay topic to begin with, but what about it? Ask yourself the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about your topic. Climate change might become how is coastal erosion caused by climate change affecting communities on the coast of Southeast Louisiana? The more narrow your topic is, the easier it will be to limit your search.

Once you've selected a topic, you can refine it by either expanding or limiting your focus. You could limit your research to a particular time period (perhaps the past 10 years of research on the topic), the group studied (looking at only a particular population). You could expand your research by adding additional concepts (in our example, maybe looking at the effects of both coastal erosion and increased severe weather events) or removing limiters (like getting rid of a time period limit).

If you're finding that refining process challenging, do some background research. The research process is iterative, so every time you read another piece of information, your background knowledge grows and changes, and your research question may shift based on what you've read. We'll go over some ideas for developing background knowledge below.


Finding Example Review Articles

You can find example review articles to serve as a model and introduce you to important pieces of research. You can find review articles in a few ways:

  • Search a database, such as Academic Search Complete, for "literature review" OR review AND your topic. E.g. "literature review" OR review AND "Civil War"
  • Search the E-Journals tab on the Libraries' homepage for Annual Review of... to find annual review journals in your discipline
  • Use the Annual Reviews database (below) to browse issues of annual review journals. Note: this is helpful for some disciplines in the sciences and social sciences, but does not include annual reviews for disciplines like the arts, humanities, or business.

Finding Dissertations/Theses

For those who are working on a literature review for a dissertation or thesis, it can be helpful to look at the literature reviews of others in your program at LSU or other institutions. Where you can find these depends on factors like the age and institution of the dissertation/thesis. You can find step-by-step instructions for how to search on the guide below.

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