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What is a literature review and how do you do one?

Literature review and research process

The aim of a literature review is to gather resources, identify trends, topics and problems in your field and to assist you in developing your own research question.

By writing a literature review you are synthesising the content from key research articles so that the reader has a coherent picture of your research.

Key priorities:

  • Identify the seminal work in your area of study. This means you will want to focus on finding scholarly articles that contain primary research.
  • Identify the gap, also considered the missing piece in the research literature or the area that is under-explored.
  • That your research will have valuable, practical and/or theoretical implications to the field of study.


What should be included in your literature review

  • Peer-reviewed articles
  • Conference proceedings
  • Dissertations/theses
  • Books
  • Peer-reviewed documentaries
  • Market research
  • Case studies

Seminal work

Seminal work can also be referred to as pivotal, landmark studies that present an idea of great importance or influence within a discipline. A research paper is seminial if it is referred to time and time again in research, so you will see it cited in other journal articles, books and dissertations. Identification of seminal research will occur as you progress in your research, the more reading you do the more correlation of the same citations you will see. It is important to note that seminal work may be published some time ago, so limiting your search to the last 5 years in a database may be excluding the seminal studies.

The number of citations can reflect whether a paper is seminal or not.

These databases and Google Scholar display the citation count for articles.

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Start by identifying the key concepts in your research question

Example question:

Efficacy scales of herbal medicine in the treatment of acute mental health conditions


Select the keywords and create a Logic grid for keywords and synomyns

Herbal Medicine Treatment Mental health conditions
Alternative medicine Intervention Mental illness
Phytotherapy Therapy Psychiatric illness
Natural remedies Medication Mental disorder


When you are reviewing your results ask yourself these questions

  • Where are the sources of the ideas?
  • Who are the main instigators?
  • How have these ideas evolved?
  • How does the literature relate to my topic?
  • How do ideas differ?
  • Where are the gaps in the literature?


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Put your search terms in the Advanced search


Tip: Learn more about using AND, OR and NOT when you search here


Use the refining tools in the database to get better results


Tip: Run the same search accross multiple databases


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Save your searches in the databases



Mendeley is referencing management stoftware. You can download Mendeley and watch our workshops on how to use Mendeley here.