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Literature Review Made Simple

Literature Review Made Simple
  by Barbara A. Kee, Ph.D.


The literature review is often a major hurdle in the dissertation process. Ideally, you should begin your search for articles and books before you formulate your final thesis question or the theoretical basis for your work. As you search, however, you can become overwhelmed by the volume of ideas, directions, and words.


Once you have all your articles and books (either in photocopy or electronic form) stacked around you, what will you do with them? How do you organize a mountain of information?


The best method requires touching each article or book only three times.

First, read through each paper or book, highlighting the paragraphs that directly relate to your topic. At the top of every article, write a word or phrase that identifies the general subject, which correlates to a section in the theoretical overview. Then stack the articles according to subject.


The second handling of the article is when you are writing the section of the literature review that matches the section of the theoretical overview. As you discuss the topic you refer to your various articles but only to look at the highlighted areas. When you have used that particular article in your literature review you put a check mark at the top of the first page and set it aside.

The third handling of the article is when you are doing your list of references. As you compile your references indicate with a different type of check mark that you have added that article to your references and then set the article aside and do not handle it again. Do not discard the article until you have successfully defended the dissertation and the bound copy is in the university library.


As you write your literature review and try to make sense of all the articles and books that you refer to in your writing, it is very easy to become confused and unsure of what you have used and what you have not used. By having some sort of system of marking your articles you will save yourself endless hours of checking and rechecking the same articles.

Not all citations are found only in your literature review. There will be other sources that you include throughout your dissertation. Just remember that if you have cited a reference it needs to be in your reference list. If you cite a reference in your reference list it probably has been cited somewhere in your dissertation. Keeping all of that straight and accurate is a challenge. A little bit of extra organization of your articles and books can ease the frustration of keeping it all together.

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