Before You Write Your Literature Review

Select the Research Questions

These questions will inform and dictate everything you research and decide to include in your literature review.  Keep them in clear view during your research and writing process to stay focused.pilesofpaper

Determine a Database

Your university library will have more than one database readily accessible, so stay away from Google, Yahoo, and Bing.  As often as possible, use primary sources as references.  For example, if you are discussing the work of Sigmund Freud, do not reference a journal article about his work; find Freud’s original research to include with your work.   Use refereed (peer reviewed) sources by limiting your database search to show only these materials.

Choose Search Terms

This will take your literature review from broad to narrow.  You should notice that the number of search results significantly decreases as your search terms become more specific.  This means you are on the right track and will be adding to the literature.  For example, consider how the results may narrow for the research terms “Ohio Territory”, “Ohio Territory AND Public Education”, “Ohio Land Ordinance of 1785”, and finally “Migratory Influences on Ohio’s Public Education System.” These are only a few sections of the literature review by Scott Cook on his dissertation at Tennessee State University entitled “Gilded Age Ohioan Presidents and American Progressive Education:  How Ohio and Its Presidents Influenced and Shaped the American Public Education System”

Organize Your Results

This simple step will save much time and equip you to stay focused as you work from broad to narrow coverage of your topic.  Create folders for each topic you will cover and store your files accordingly.  Write one section at a time with your sources readily available and your database minimized on your screen.  As you write, you will find additional sources to add inspired by your research.


Take a deep breath and get started!


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