How to carry out a literature review

Doing the project

select a sample | develop research instruments | collect data | carry out a literature review

How to carry out a literature review

Carrying out a literature review involves using other people’s research rather than collecting new data yourself. Literature reviews entail these processes: finding suitable literature, assessing it, summarising it and synthesising it.

First of all, decide what ‘suitable literature’ means. Encourage the group to be as specific as possible about what literature it wants to include in the review, otherwise it will end up with too many studies to read. To find suitable literature, search on the internet, on council or government websites, and in your local and university libraries. A librarian will be able to help the young researchers to do this.

Next, assess each study. These questions will help the group to do this:

  • Is it highly relevant to the research question?
  • Is it objective and unbiased?
  • Is it accurate?
  • Is it well written?
  • Is it a reliable source of evidence? If it is research, is it robust?
  • Is it recent? If not, is it still relevant?

If you can answer yes to all these questions, include the study in the review.

Note down the key pieces of information on each of the studies that the groups has decided to include, also with a summary of the study’s main findings. A template might look like the example below. Don’t forget to note down the page numbers of any key quotations.

When the group has summarised all the studies, look across the summaries and think about the following questions:

  • What key themes have emerged?
  • What do the studies disagree and agree on?
  • Is there any consensus in the literature?
  • Are there any gaps in it?



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