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1. Explore, select, then focus on a topic.
a. This is the beginning of your question formation, research question, or hypothesis.
b. Look at “recommendations for further research” in the conclusions of articles or other items.
c. Use this to formulate your goal or objective of the review.
d. (Generally for a systematic review or meta-analysis) Determine the inclusion or pre-established criteria.
2. Prepare for your search.
a. Identify information sources for your topic and field: library and information resources, organizations, special collections or archives, etc.
b. Consider other fields that also study your topic. Some topics may be studied by multiple disciplines (e.g., aging can be studied in the fields of medicine, psychology and social work, and from their frame of reference).
c. Familiarize yourself with your organization’s library or information services, including interlibrary loan or document delivery.
d. Choose keywords and search strategy: terminology, synonyms, and combining terms (Boolean Operators AND, OR, NOT).
e. Read other literature reviews of your topics if available.
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3. Start your search.
a. Keep track of your search strategies and results.
b. Skim, scan, read, or annotate what you find.
c. Try chain or citation searching to find additional documents. This is also known as pearl mining/ growing, citation analysis, mining, or reference searching.
d. Manual or hand searching: visit the stacks or your journal’s online version. Also, browse, flip or skim through publications or journals on your topic.
e. Search alerts: create a personal account in library databases, search engines and journal packages to get notifications.
4. Organize your documents, data, and information.
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5. Survey and review what is found.
6. Analyze and critique the literature
Remember, the literature review is an iterative process. You may need to revisit parts of this search, find new or additional information, or update your research question based on what you find.
7. Provide a synthesis and overview of the literature; this can be organized by themes or chronologically.
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There typically isn't a set amount of time for searching to determine when to stop your literature search. The number of publications located usually won't indicate when to stop unless your review or assignment requirements specify this. To summarize our conversations with professors and graduate students, and to draw conclusions from our own literature reviews, we suggest considering these points to decide when to finish your search: