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EDUC 1265: Comparative Education Systems: Governance and Policy

What is a Literature Review?

Research and the literature review in particular is a cyclical process. There is an art to the some times 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 which 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.

Research Steps

Research Question
  • What is it you want to know?
  • Where to look?
  • How to find what you are looking for? (Keywords)
Scope of the Literature Review? It depends.
  • How many sources?
  • What types of sources?
  • Citation style?
  • Time period? Currency?
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Materials?
Throw out a wide net
  • Keywords
  • Databases and Journals
  • Organizations
  • People
  • Read Read Read
How do you know you are done?


One key factor in knowing you are done is that you keep running into the same articles and materials. With no new information being uncovered you can assume you've exhausted your current search and should modify search terms, or perhaps you have reached a point of exhaustion with the available research.


More information on Writing a Literature Review (UNC)

Organize Your Lit Review

  • Identify organizational structure: chronological, thematic, or methodological
  • Start writing:
    • Let the literature tell the story
    • Find the best examples
    • Summarize instead of quote
    • Synthesize by rephrasing (but cite!)
  • Topic of the literature review: introduce the central theme and organization
  • Body considers of having your resources speak for themselves and between one another
  • Conclusion/Recommendations