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Write a Literature Review

Why should I document my search?

Documenting searches for traditional literature reviews is not essential but will help you stay organized and perhaps save you some time. Documenting your search can help you:

  • keep track of what you've done so that you don't repeat unproductive searches
  • reuse successful search strategies for future papers

Consider whether it makes sense for you to document the following during your search process:

  • the databases and resources used
  • search strategies for each resource, including the search terms and limits used (e.g. dates, language, etc.)
  • the number of results for each search strategy

Selecting Articles for Your Literature Review

You may want to think about criteria that will be used to select articles for your literature review based on your research question.  These are commonly known as inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria. Inclusion criteria are the elements of an article that must be present in order for it to be eligible for inclusion in a literature review, while exclusion criteria are the elements of an article that disqualify the study from inclusion in a literature review.

For example:

  • Must certain methodologies be used?
  • Should the studies have been published in the last 5 years?

Consider Using a Synthesis Matrix

As you read, you'll encounter various ideas, disagreements, methods, and perspectives which can be hard to organize in a meaningful way. Because you'll be reading a number of resources, a synthesis matrix helps you record the main points of each source and document how sources relate to each other.

What is Reference Management?

Reference management is when you use specific tools to help you organize the references you find during a lit review search. Citation Management Software, like Zotero or Mendeley, are commonly used in literature reviews. VCU Libraries has more information about Choosing a Citation Tool to fit your needs.

Need Help Writing the Literature Review?

Now that you have conducted your research and documented your findings, you're ready to begin writing your literature review.  VCU's Writing Center consultants can help you plan, develop, and organize your literature review and a follow-up appointment will help you edit, proofread, and revise it.