Skip to Main Content

Workshop: Literature Reviews with the STEM Team

How to conduct a literature review

Where to Start

How do we start to conduct a literature review?

Who, What, Where, When and Why?

Start with a good thesis.

Use the thesis keywords for your searches.


Researching Tips

As you search in the Library's One Search (the homepage of the library), you may not be getting the types of accurate results you would like to have. You will then want to try looking in discipline specific databases. For the STEM disciplines, those databases will be listed below. This list is not exhaustive. Please go to the A-Z list to see more databases related to your topics.

You may also want to think about how the databases work. We talk about this in the workshop, but you can use the following to be able to make your searches more specific:

  • Boolean Operators
  • Phrase Searching
  • Truncation

How to organize the literature review

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological: The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic: If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Methodological: If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods, you can compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
    • Qualitative versus quantitative research
    • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
    • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical: In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

This is from the Purdue OWL Guide for Literature Reviews