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Researching for your literature review: Literature reviews


All research, whatever the discipline, needs to be situated in relation to what has already been done in the field.

Reviewing the literature helps you:

  • find out what is already known about a topic in order to locate gaps and justify the research being undertaken
  • locate the work of important theorists whose ideas will inform the research
  • identify useful methodologies, methods and documentary sources

Literature search process

For comprehensive literature searching it is important to be systematic in your approach. This includes developing a plan for your search (including the search terms you will use and the resources you will search), and keeping records of the searches you carry out. The process is listed in steps below, but much of it is iterative rather than linear.

flow diagram of the steps to consider when developing a search strategy

Literature Review versus Systematic Review

You might have heard the term 'Systematic Review'. A systematic review goes further than a literature review in that it aims to locate and evaluate all studies, published and unpublished, relevant to a specific research question. 

Systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods to minimise bias and enable verification and replication. Those produced by the Cochrane Library are often considered to be the 'gold standard'. For more information on systematic reviews please see the Library's Systematic Review guide.




A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies

Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements