5 steps to Literature Review

Literature review is one of the most significant aspects of any research study. It helps to bring about clarity in problem formulation as well as defining objectives and research questions or hypotheses. It is carried out during the initial phases of the research study. 

1. Where to search for  literature

Now that you have narrowed down  upon your problem area, the next step is to know about the existing knowledge base in that particular area. This knowledge base in the form of literature is available at various places. The traditional form of literature search was carried out by visiting libraries or government departments/centres. With the boom in digital technology, all forms of literature are now available online and it can be accessed with the ease of click of a mouse. Universities have now adopted the digital library system and the literature is available in the form of e-resources. Various databases like jstor, ebsco host, proquest etc. provide a plethora of literature for the researchers. 

2. Types of literature

There are various types of literature which a researcher needs to search. It is in the form of books, periodicals, journals, public records and databases. Books related to the topic of your study can be research based or  theoretical. Research based books provide information about findings and methodology applied by previous researchers. Theoretical books provide in depth and conceptual understanding of a particular phenomena. 

Research based articles in various journals provide information on the studies conducted by other researchers. These research papers give a clue on what type of research design, methodology or sample was taken up by previous researchers and what were their findings. It helps the researcher to formulate the hypothesis or the research questions and objectives of the study to be undertaken. 

Government records such as census, surveys etc. are also reviewed to get information about various types of data. Records are most important when taking  up historical studies. Reports provide a great source of information especially when taking up evaluation studies. 

3. What to look for in a literature

Now when you have the information on the types of literature available, the next step is to keenly review the  literature. It has a technical aspect which a researcher should be aware of while doing literature review. The researcher should always look for literature similar to the one being undertaken. 

The prior thing a researcher should look for in a literature if it is a research report, is the findings of the study. The hypotheses undertaken and whether those were proved true or false. In case of inductive research, what knowledge base was added to the subject area. Another important aspect to review is the methodology used by other researchers. Methodology and research design are the most significant part of a study. An understanding of this gives the researcher an idea about the type of methodology to be used in the present study.

It is also important to look into the sample and the population on which the studies were conducted. 

Books form a bulk of literature which can provide theoretical as well as research base knowledge. Various concepts are elaborated which can be used to substantiate the present study. If you are taking up a deductive approach to your study, theories propounded by other researchers can be taken up for further testing. 

The main objective of carrying out a review of literature is to find the gaps in the existing literature. The researcher should be  keen on understanding the  aspects which the other studies have not addressed. Thus, formulate the objectives of the present study to address those gaps.


4. How to document the literature review

There are two approaches to writing down the literature review section of your thesis. 

The first and the simplest form is to just mention the author/s name and the findings and other relevant information of the studies referred to. This is a more direct form. For example : 

Example 1

According to Treker , “there are five stages of group development………”

Example 2

Munson found out that skill based education enhances the employability of individuals. The methodology used was………with ……population. 

The second way of writing literature review is to give your own views on a topic and then substantiate it with the studies carried out by various researchers/authors.

Example 1

Most of the people who migrate to earn a living  are unskilled and  find low paying jobs (Ali, 2006:13 ; Thakur & Dhadave, 1987:167). Since their  income is low, they cannot find a decent place to live and hence  they squat the land which they do not own,  resulting in the growth of slums.

5. Citation and Referencing

Referencing and citations are core of literature review. This is also important to save yourself  from plagiarism. Whatever literature you are referring to needs to be mentioned in the document. Various referencing styles are proposed in text short citation as well as a long citation in the form of a list at the end of the document. 

There are various Referencing styles proposed by various bodies which can be followed as per your choice. 

APA Referencing

A very commonly used referencing style is the APA style (American Psychological Association). This style provides a detailed description on the ways different types of literature need to be cited. APA style is widely used by academic bodies and gives a comprehensive guide on referencing. You can refer to the APA Publication manual 7th edition for a detailed guide.  The manual provides extensive information with examples. 

Chicago Style

The Chicago Manual of Style is developed by Chicago University and it provides a unique referencing style for authors and editors. It has a comprehensive set of examples for various bibliographic referencing. 

Other referencing styles include the Harvard referencing, Modern Language Association and the Oxford Referencing style. 

The choice of the referencing style depends on the subject area of your writing.  


After reading this article you might have got clarity on how to approach a review of literature, types of literature and where to look for it. If you need more clarity, do write in the comment section.

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