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Literature Reviews: A Resource Guide

This guide offers information on what a literature review is, how to go about conducting one, and links to library resources that will help you with the process.

Look for existing literature reviews

The kind of sources listed below can provide recent state-of-the art overviews about the literature of your topic. As well as saving time, these sources will develop your knowledge so that you can critically analyze existing research.  Read to discover: 

  • how the definition of the topic has developed and changed
  • what are the key works and  who are the key theorists
  • what methodologies have generally been used for research in this area
  • what components of the topic have been singled out for special attention and why
  • how are the different studies related

Handbooks (in some disciplines these are called 'companions') - While these can lead you to relevant literature, the primary purpose of using a handbook is that they can provide a contemporary synthesis of the existing state of knowledge about your broad topic.

In the library search box, use handbook as a search term, combined with either specific, or broader, terms related to your topic.

Literature reviews

  • Some journals  focus specifically on publishing literature reviews.  One example is the Annual Reviews series of journals in life, physical and social sciences. Ask your subject librarian for titles of 'review' journals in your discipline. Examples in Education and Psychology are Review of Educational Research and Psychological Bulletin (not all its articles are reviews though)
  • Most academic journals occasionally publish literature reviews. Search a subject database, or Google Scholar, for these by doing a Boolean search combining  "literature review" OR "review of the literature" AND your topic. You may want to limit your search by date to relatively recent publications.
  • Databases sometimes allow you to limit your search to literature reviews in the subject field, or limit by document type to review articles.  PsycINFO include literature review as a methodology. After performing your PsycInfo search, you click on 'additional limits' (near the bottom of the screen below the search box) and choose literature review as a Methodology (see below).

Dissertations/theses

Because literature reviews are a required component of theses and dissertations, try searching a database like Proquest Dissertations & Theses  to find a recent one related to your field. 

Or search The Vault for University of Calgary theses or dissertations - perhaps looking for those your supervisor supervised.