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Literature Reviews

An introduction to the Literature Review process and resources to help you get started.

First Steps: Things to Consider Before you Start Reading

  • Keep your purpose in mind when you read.
  • Don't let the arguments in the text distract you.
  • Before beginning to read, take a few moments to think about what it is you are expecting from the article or chapter.
  • Skim-read the abstract, headings, conclusion, and the first sentence of each paragraph. Do you need to read everything with equal attention? Can you see where the arguments are headed?

Synthesis: Asking Questions as you Read

Critical questions

  • Questions will help you concentrate and deal with the material in an active manner.
  • Your analytical skills will be sharpened and you will keep an objective outlook on your material.

Questions can be

  • general: 'Have there been any specific studies on the role of women in electoral lobbying?'


  • specific: 'Are these results comparable with the Japanese study using the same questionnaire?'

Sample questions aimed at eliciting a criticism of experimental methodology

  • What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Why is this piece of research important?
  • What was measured?
  • What information do you have on the sample?
  • How was the data collected?
  • What were the results?
  • What do the authors conclude and to what do they attribute their findings?
  • Can you accept the findings as true?
  • How can you apply these findings to your own work?

When results are conflicting, you might find it useful to ask the following questions:

  • How similar were the programs used?
  • Were different measurement instruments used?
  • How were the programs evaluated?

Taking Notes as you Read

Make sure

  • you keep track of the difference between your ideas and those of other authors
  • your notes are legible
  • you remember to provide complete bibliographic references, including page numbers

There are a number of effective methods of note-taking:

  • Two-columned (Cornell) method: In one column write your summary of the authors' conclusions and evidence, and in the other column write down your own assessment, critique and other comments.
  • Charting method: construct a list of points/topics/subjects you want to write about, and create a column for each one. As you read, note down notes and references in the appropriate column.
  • Sentence method: as you read, write down new ideas and bits of information as a sentence. Number each sentence.
  • Mapping method: write down key concepts and terms, with related ideas radiating out from these.

The above is a sample of various note-taking methods. There is no prescribed method, and you need to select one that works for you. The following Academic Skills Guide gives a useful summary of a few popular methods.

Photo by Sanwal Deen on Unsplash

Critically Reading Web-based Material

Most material on the Internet is not peer reviewed (unlike many journal articles and most scholarly books). You therefore need to read these writings critically and objectively.

  • What do you know about the authors of the piece?
  • What is the perspective of the writer? (Think about the contexts of gender and culture)
  • Why does the site exist?
  • How old is the material?
  • Is there reliable evidence to support the author's contentions?
  • Is the material correctly and fully referenced or linked to other online information?
  • What is the domain of the web page (eg .gov, .org, .edu)?

For further assistance, review the Choosing the right resources section of the Research essentials guide

Reviewing and Rethinking

  • This gives you a chance to have another think about the reading material.
  • Look over your notes soon after you do the reading.
  • Add additional comments where necessary.
  • Double check that you have all the referencing information.