5 Steps to Conducting Effective Literature Reviews

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A literature review is a very important part of every research project. Apart from providing an overview of current knowledge relevant to the research topic via survey of scholarly sources, it also give the researcher the opportunity to identify any knowledge gaps, establish research context, and guide the direction of the entire research. In this article, we will look at five steps to conducting effective literature reviews.

What are the purpose of literature reviews

Before looking at the five steps to conducting effective literature reviews, let’s answer a very important question; “Why should you even do a literature review?”. As a researcher, you need to be inquisitive, you don’t begin any journey without asking questions; for instance, you need to understand the purpose and the aim of any journey before embarking on it. So understanding ‘the why’ behind doing a literature review for your project or dissertation is very critical. Below are the reasons why literature review is necessary for every research project:

  • To get a better understanding of the research topic
  • To Find out existing gaps in your research area and prepare yourself on how your research can address those gaps.
  • To present different methodologies that have been used in the research area; this can guide you to decide the best one for your study
  • To help you highlight some findings and conclusions that will be relevant in the discussion segment of your research

Steps to Conducting Effective Literature Reviews

Step 1: Define the scope and objective of the survey

To get better result with your literature review, you need to sit down and develop a guide for it. Note down all your research questions, concepts, themes and most importantly have a timeframe for the review.

For example if you are writing a research project on “Exploring Online Learning: Tips for Remote Research” You have to start by developing your research question. e.g.,

  • What are some of the challenges faced by students in exploring online learning for remote research?
  • What strategies can student adapt to stay motivated while exploring online learning for remote research? etc.

Step 2: Make a List of Relevant sources for the review

You need to make a list of relevant sources for the literature review: From my experience, the number one source you should consider is your Department Resource Centre or the School Library.  When I was doing my Undergraduate research, I was able to see relevant literatures in our departmental resource center, and those materials provided the framework for my research.

The next stop is the internet, and when you come to the internet there are many resources online that can support your research, but they can be a bit confusing, I suggest you search for materials on platform like Google Scholar, JSTOR, library catalogs, academic databases etc.,

Step 3: Conduct the Literature Search

Once you have established your scope and you have identified relevant sources, the next step is to start the literature search. Head over to the identify sources and start looking for answers to your questions. Ensure you list out identified gaps, theme, methodology, patterns, findings and map them out with their respective references immediately (REFERENCES are very important, so start writing them from the beginning so that you won’t miss them out of excitement)

Step 4: Evaluate your findings based on relevance, sources and quality

There are limit for literature review based on your school, level of studies (under graduate or post graduate), so you may not be able to include all your finding from the search on the literature review section of the research project. Thus you need to evaluate all your findings based on Author’s credential, publication year, research methods and academic journals. And then decide on what to include on your review section based on relevancy to your research

Step 5: Analyze and write your Literature review

Develop an outline for your review, they are various way to approach this, it maybe thematic, theoretical, methodological and chronological. What ever method you decide, a literature review normally has Introduction, main body and the conclusion.


  • Your introduction can start by providing overview of the research questions, but must importantly address the scope and purpose of the review


The body will focus on trends, themes and key findings; you can choose to summarize points from different sources and organize them thematically or chronologically.


Here you summarize the key findings of the review, possibly outlining some gaps and questions for further research.

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