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RS5500: Seminar in Research Methods

This guide supports research for graduate students in the RS5500 course.

Lit Review 101

A literature review asks: What do we know - or not know - about this particular issue/ topic/ subject?

How well you answer this question depends upon:

  1. the effectiveness of your search for information
  2. the quality & reliability of the sources you choose
  3. your ability to synthesize the sources you select

The Process

The “literature” represents an on-going scholarly conversation. A literature review “re-views” – looks again – at what others have said, done, found in a particular area.

The “literature” you choose will inform and underpin everything you write, so plan searches carefully.


An effective literature search:

  • reduces time spent looking for information
  • maximizes quality and appropriateness of results
  • helps clarify the scope of your research topic
  • helps define and “refine” the research question(s)
  • helps find data and research methods
  • helps locate a ‘niche’ in the literature
  • helps identify experts/ important works in the field




Topic relevance: Is the literature on the same topic as you proposed to study?

Individual and site relevance: Does the literature examine the same individuals and sites you want to study?

If not



Summarize each source to: 

  • Recap the important and most relevant information found in each source 
  • Identify variables 
  • Identify context/ setting 
  • Identify theories 
  • Identify findings



Integrate the literature – enter into the on-going scholarly conversation with your own narrative about how these perspectives, findings, conclusions, fit together with one another – and – with your research questions 

  • Identify similarities and differences 
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates 
  • Reflect upon the importance of the body of literature for your research 
  • Evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.


Source: Nita Bryant, Virginia Commonwealth University, November 18, 2013.