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Literature Reviews

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

Keeping Track of Your Searches

It can be helpful to keep track of your search strategies as you search the literature. Knowing:

  • Where you searched
  • What keywords you used
  • When you searched
  • Where you saved sources from that search

Can help you:

  • Avoid reusing ineffective searches
  • Figure out which search strategies are effective
  • Know when you need to search again for more recent publications
  • Choose search strategies to apply to other databases

To keep track of your searches, use this search log template.

Effective Reading

It's not always effective to read every article from beginning to end as you go through the literature. While you'll want to read an article before you cite it, read these sections first as you do your initial pass through your search results.

  1. Abstract. The abstract serves as a summary of the article, so if the abstract is not relevant to your research, the rest of the article likely won't be either. If it's not relevant, move on to your next source.
  2. Introduction and conclusion. The introduction will give you background information on why the author felt this research was needed and the conclusion will describe the major findings and identify future research that is still needed. If these aren't relevant, move on.
  3. Methods. A methods section will describe how their study was conducted, particular populations or datasets studied, and how large the study was. If the methods are wildly different from what you're addressing, you may want to move on.
  4. Results. The results section goes into more detail about all of the author's findings. If nothing there is relevant, move on. If this still looks promising, save the article to read through from beginning to end when you start taking notes.

 

Note-Taking

As you read an article, you may wish to take notes about what you've read. Here are some things to consider as you take notes:

  • What are the main points of this text that are relevant to your research question?
  • How does this relate to something else you've read?
  • What are their methods?
  • What are their findings?
  • How is this text unique from your other sources?

Here are some examples of what your note-taking could look like:

Now is a good time to write these ideas in your own words. This will not only make it easier to understand what you're reading, but also help you practice paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism down the road.

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