Once you've finalized your research topic, you can begin the process of conducting your research. Whether you are assessing the existing landscape for your research topic or creating space for your original research, a literature review will be a key component of any academic project that you complete.
"A literature review is a survey of information that has been written about a particular topic, theory, or research question. A literature review can stand on its own, or provide the background for a larger work. Much more than a simple list of sources, an effective literature review analyzes and synthesizes information about key themes or issues."
What does it mean to "review the literature", and how is this different from a literature review? This two minute video describes scholarly literature and how it relates to your own research ideas.
The type of literature review that you perform as a graduate student will depend on many factors including your research goals, your field of study, the time frame, and the level of required analysis. It is important to consider each of these factors in conjunction with any parameters or assessment criteria outlined by your professor or supervisor. The following are common types of literature reviews.
Narrative Literature Review: A narrative literature review, also called a traditional literature review, describes existing research on a defined topic. A narrative review can stand alone, or serve as an introduction to original research. A strong narrative review will identify a research question, organize results thematically, summarize and analyze key concepts or ideas, and convey both what is known and unknown about a research topic. A narrative review is typically completed informally and independently, and may contain some biases as search results are not usually exhaustive.
Knowledge Synthesis: The category of knowledge syntheses includes scoping reviews, systematic reviews, and rapid reviews. Knowledge syntheses must be transparent and reproducible in their methods, and hence are often referred to as methods-driven reviews. Common in clinical health research, these types of reviews involve a team of researchers and take several months to complete. For more information see the following resources:
Before starting your literature review, take some time to identify the key concepts in your research topic, and to brainstorm related terms so that you can search the literature more thoroughly. Authors sometimes describe the same concepts using different terminology, and by searching for multiple related terms, you'll be able to search for relevant literature that uses different language, terminology, or phrasing to express a similar concept. Use the Literature Search Plan worksheet below to plan the key concepts and related terms in your research question.
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