The Process of a Literature Review

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In research studies, a literature review serves three purposes: 1) feel the pulse of the current state of cumulative knowledge; 2) identify seminal authors, theories, and findings; and 3) reveal gaps in the research revealed in the literature or lack of literature  (Bhattacherjee, 2012).  Many academics prefer to begin their review of literature by searching through databases for their keyword strings and skim-reading the articles the find (primarily the abstract, conceptual framework, and outcome sections are the most useful for skimming).  As a blogger, I often find I like to take a slightly different approach of outlining what I want to say first and looking for articles that fit my conceptual framework.  At this point in our technology-driven society, there is peer-reviewed information on nearly everything, even if it is very little information.  I find that the academic approach feels like trying to drink from a waterfall and I’d much rather work from my own opinions and thoughts first.  Often I must revise what I have said based on the literature when I find that there is no evidence to support my idea, but by this point I have found many valuable sources of information and have reconstructed my own knowledge.

A new method of organizing a literature review section I picked up this week is to follow the themes of the research questions and goals along with the variables and methodologies (this latter part I already knew).  Taking an elemental theme from each research question and turning it inside-out, so to speak, gives cause for a literature review as to why this question is valid to be asked of the study and why it will demonstrate the research as substantive.   As an example, one of my hypothesized questions for the neonatal kitten simulation study will cover the perceptions of the learners, so in my literature review I can discuss perceptions as a factor of learning motivation and look for seminal works to cite a few of the best because only a summary is needed as this is not the topic of the thesis.  These shorter summary sections are perhaps the hardest portions for me of a literature review as they forcefully leave so much out; each topic could be a research paper in and of themselves.  However, the idea of leveraging the themes of the research questions is to be supportive of your research objective at all times.


Bhattacherjee, A. (2012). Social science research: Principles, methods, and practices: Scholar Commons, University of South Florida.