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Research Support

What is a literature review?

Research, and the literature review in particular, is a cyclical process. There is an art to the sometimes messy, thrilling, and frustrating process of conducting a lit review.

  • Read widely but selectively.
  • Follow the citation trail -- building on previous research by reviewing bibliographies of articles and books that are close to your interest.
  • Synthesize previous research on the topic.
  • Aim to include both summary and synthesis.
    • Focus on ways to have the body of literature tell its own story. Do not add your own interpretations at this point.
    • Look for patterns and find ways of tying the pieces together.
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Conducting a literature review

  • Throw out a wide net and read, read, read. 
  • How many sources do you need? What types of sources? Which citation style should you use? What time period should it cover? Is currency important? What do you need to be aware of related to scholarly versus popular materials?
  • Explored synonyms and alternative phrases in your searches. You will eventually begin to find the same articles and materials in your searches.

Writing a literature review

  • The initial work Identify the organizational structure you want to use: chronologically, thematically, or methodologically
  • Start writing: let the literature tell the story, find the best examples, summarize instead of quote, synthesize by rephrasing (but cite!) in the context of your work

Searching the health sciences literature

Searching the Literature (Yale University)
This is a series of video tutorials from the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library at Yale. The video series explains what systematic reviews are and the steps involved in searching the literature.