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How to Do a Literature Review: Where to Begin

Where Should I Start?

  1. If you are confused about your assignment, make sure that you ask the professor questions before you start your research. 

  2. Choose a topic. 

  3. Research your topic, starting with background information.  Ideally you will start with encyclopedias, books/book chapters, and finally articles.  You don't want to jump into peer reviewed articles, which generally address very specific topics, before you understand the broad topic. 

  4. Develop your thesis or hypothesis on your research topic.  Revise your thesis if your research leads you in a different direction. Revising in this way is part of the research process. 

  5. As you read your sources, write down important points on your specific topic and subtopics. This will help you see patterns of agreement and disagreement or difference between your sources. Then, you will be better able to organize your literature review when you start to write it. See our Organization & Writing section for tips on this step. 

  6. If you find holes in your reading, research again to see if you missed a source or if this is a gap in knowledge. 

Beginning Can Be Tough

Snoopy types Book One Part I Chapter One Page 1, and thinks, "What a great start!"

Finding Sources for Your Literature Reviw

Through your literature review, you are investigating what experts are currently saying and have said about your topic. For that reason, literature reviews focus primarily on published scholarly articles that has gone through the internal vetting process of peer-review in a specific field. 

To access those articles free of charge, visit the MCNY Library Resources research guide where you will find the libraries databases organized by subject.

As you search, keep in mind that there are several different kinds of research articles. The two main categories are:

Primary research articles written by a researcher who conducts original research, for example in the form of a controlled trial or series of interviews, that collects new quantitative or qualitative data.

Secondary research articles that summarize and analyze original research papers written by others, providing overviews, identifying trends, and/or proposing new theories.

Your literature will benefit from examining both kinds of articles.

Evaluating Sources for Your Literature Review

How will I decide what sources to include in my literature review?  What are my rules for considering an article fit for review?  

What are the credentials of the authors of the sources I choose?  Are their arguments supported by evidence?

Are the authors subjective?  Did they consider both supporting and contrary data?

Have I included sources that offer alternative interpretations, or have I only chosen sources which validate my assumption?

Does the source contribute to the understanding of the topic?

How do these sources relate to my research question?