Why a literature review is of value.
A literature review is an assessment of a body (or bodies) of literature that pertains to a specific
question. A literature review is helpful in several ways. It not only helps researchers glean the
ideas of others interested in a particular research question (through important research findings
and theories), but it also lets them read about the results of similar or related studies. Literature
reviews also give researchers ideas about areas where more research needs to be done.
Types of Sources
Researchers need to be familiar with three basic types of sources (general references,
primary sources, and secondary sources) in doing a literature review.
1. General reference tools are the sources researchers often refer to first. In effect, they tell where
to look to locate other sources—such as articles, books, reports, and other documents—that deal
directly with the research question. General reference tools are usually either indexes, which list
the author, title, and place of publication of articles and other materials, or abstracts , which give
a brief summary or annotation of various publications, as well as their author, title, and place of
2. Primary sources are publications in which researchers report the results of their studies
directly to the reader. Most primary sources in education are journals, such as the Journal of
Educational Research or the Journal of Research in Science Teaching
3. Secondary sources refer to publications in which authors describe the work of others. The
most common secondary sources in education are textbooks.
Search terms are keywords or phrases researchers use to help locate relevant primary
The following steps are involved in a literature search:
1. Define the research problem as precisely as possible. (To state the research question clearly)
2. Look at relevant secondary sources (these can include research reviews). (to get an overview
of previous work that has been done on the problem or to get some idea of what is already
known about the problem and of some of the other questions that are being asked.)
3. Select and peruse one or two appropriate general reference works.
4. Formulate search terms (key words or phrases) pertinent to the problem or question of interest.
(Once a general reference work has been selected, researchers need to formulate some search
terms —words or phrases they can use to locate primary sources. Search terms are the most
important words in the problem statement.)
5. Search for relevant primary sources using appropriate general reference tools.
6. Obtain and read relevant primary sources, and note and summarize key points in the sources.
WAYS TO DO A LITERATURE SEARCH
• Today, there are two ways to do a literature search—manually, using print/paper
tools to locate print/paper sources; and electronically, by means of a computer. The
most common and frequently used method, however, is to search online, via computer.
Regardless of the tools involved, the search process is similar.
• There are five essential points (problem, hypotheses, procedures, findings, and conclusions)
that researchers should record when taking notes on a study.
DOING A COMPUTER SEARCH
• Computer searches of the literature have a number of advantages—they are fast, are
fairly inexpensive, provide printouts, and enable researchers to search using more
than one descriptor at a time.
• The steps in a traditional manual search are similar to those in a computer search,
though computer searches are usually the norm.
• Researching the World Wide Web (WWW) should be considered, in addition to
ERIC and PsycINFO, in doing a literature search.
• Some of the information on the Web is classified into indexes, which group Web sites
together under similar categories. Yahoo! is an example of a directory.
• To obtain more specific information, search engines should be used, because they
search all of the contents of a Web site.
THE LITERATURE REVIEW REPORT
• The literature review report consists of an introduction, the body of the review, a
summary, the researcher’s conclusions, and a bibliography.
• A literature review should include a search for relevant meta-analysis reports, as well
as individual studies.
• When a researcher does a meta-analysis, he or she averages the results of a group of
selected studies to get an overall index of outcome or relationship.