Develop a plan for your literature review. Come up with a list of keywords, key authors, journals, databases etc. that are relevant to your topic. Define the scope and purpose of your review. Will it be comprehensive or focused on a certain aspect? Develop search terms to find relevant literature.
Do preliminary searches of bibliographic databases and other sources to get an initial sense of the available literature. Academic search engines like Google Scholar, ProQuest, Scopus and subject-specific databases will allow you to search for journal articles, books, conference papers and more. Search reference lists of relevant papers for additional sources.
Develop inclusion and exclusion criteria for literature. Decide what types of literature and from what date ranges will be included. For example, you may focus only on peer-reviewed journal articles published in the last 10-15 years written in English. Keep detailed notes on your criteria.
Use effective search strategies in databases. Start with controlled vocabulary/subject terms for your topic when available. Use Boolean search operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine terms. Do iterative searches to expand or narrow your search. Search for variations in terminology.
Screen titles and abstracts against your criteria to identify sources for full text review. Download, request or note citations of relevant sources. Keep a bibliography or reference list as you go along using a citation management system like EndNote, Mendeley etc. This will help organize your sources.
Read selected sources in full. As you read take detailed notes summarizing key points, methods, findings, theories and concepts. Note agreements and disagreements between studies. Highlight useful quotes that relate to your review questions. You may need to read some sources multiple times.
Analyze and evaluate sources critically. Consider research design, methods, sample, measures. Note sources of funding and potential biases. Weigh evidence from different types of research. Use critical appraisal checklists for different study designs. Analyze conceptual frameworks used, research gaps identified.
Synthesize findings thematically from multiple sources rather than summarizing individual studies. Group studies together by factors such as topic, methodology, theoretical perspective, chronology etc. Compare and contrast evidence on your review questions while also identifying consistencies. Note relationships between studies.
Interpret overall significance and implications of research. Explain how studies connect or differ in their findings, scope and theories. Identify how research adds to the overall field. Note limitations and knowledge gaps. Explain how research could be improved, extended or applied. Assess overall strength and quality of evidence while remaining objective.
Structure the literature review around key themes, concepts and topics rather than individual studies. Develop an argument while discussing relevant literature. Provide insight into how reviewed literature relates to your topic and purposes of the review. Guide the reader through your synthesis of evidence.
Reference all sources using a consistent citation style. Include all sources cited within the text in a reference list. The reference list should contain full citations for all sources consulted even if not directly cited within the text. Check for accuracy and consistency of citations.
Provide a critical summary and conclusions. Briefly reiterate the key areas, discussions and debates covered in the review. Identify significant findings as they relate to your stated purposes and objectives. Highlight major limitations, generalizability and implications of body of literature. Suggest directions for future research. Consider review’s limitations and suggest ways to improve future versions.
Conducting a thorough literature review takes significant time, focus and effort. By developing and sticking to a clear plan, searching systematically, analysing and synthesising critically, and structuring the review thoughtfully – you can ensure a high quality output that justifies, contextualises and advances knowledge on your topic of interest. Maintaining organization and keeping detailed records at each stage is also crucial for producing a rigorous, replicable literature review.