What is a literature review?

Citation Management

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A Process for Organizing Your Review of the Literature

  1. Select the most relevant material from your sources With your research question in mind, read each of your sources and identify the material that is most relevant to that question. This might be material that answers the question directly, but it might also be material that helps explain why it’s important to ask the question or that is otherwise relevant to your question. When you pull this material from your source, you can extract it as a direct quotation, or you can paraphrase the passage or idea. (Make sure you enclose direct quotations in quotation marks!) A single source may have more than one idea relevant to your question.
  2. Arrange that material so you can focus on it apart from the source text itself
    Many writers put the material they have selected into a grid. They place each quotation or paraphrase in a cell in that grid. Arranging your selected material in a grid has two benefits: first, you can view your relevant material away from the source text (meaning you are now working with fewer words and pages!). Second, you can view all of the material that will go into your lit review in one place.
  3. Group similar points, themes, or topics together, and give each grouping a label
    Look at each cell in your grid—or each of the ideas you have pulled from your sources, whether they are quotations or paraphrases—and look for similarities and differences among them. Group similar ideas, approaches, or themes together. (Imagine cutting the grid into cells and moving those cells around so you can put similar ideas in the same group. You can actually cut your grid into cells and play with different ways of grouping your material.) If you have lot of quotations/paraphrases in one group, see if that group should be split up into smaller ones.

    Once you have created these groups of ideas, approaches, or themes, give each one a label. The labels describe the points, themes, or topics that are the backbone of your paper’s structure.

    Now that you have identified the topics you will discuss in your lit review, look them over as a whole. Do you see any gaps that you should fill by finding additional sources? If so, do that research and add those sources to your groupings.

  4. Order those points, themes, or topics as you will discuss them in the paper, and turn your labels into actual assertions
    Look at each group of ideas, approaches, or themes you have created. Change the label for each group from a noun phrase to an assertion—a sentence that makes a point that is directly related to your research question or thesis. That is, determine the point that you can make, given how the material in each group addresses your research question or thesis. For example, you may have a label called “Reasons focused on transportation” that can be transformed into the assertion “One barrier to healthcare for older adults is lack of access to transportation.”

    Once you have an assertion for each of your groupings, put those assertions in the order that you want to use in the lit review. This may be the order that has the best logical flow, or the order that tells the story you want to tell in the lit review.

Source: Organizing Literature Reviews: The Basics from George Mason University

Tools to help organize your literature review