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Linguistics Library Guide: Research

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How to write a literature review

Date published February 22, 2019 by Shona McCombes. Date updated: April 6, 2020

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.

Conducting a literature review involves collecting, evaluating and analyzing publications (such as books and journal articles) that relate to your research question. There are five main steps in the process of writing a literature review:

  1. Search for relevant literature
  2. Evaluate sources
  3. Identify themes, debates and gaps
  4. Outline the structure
  5. Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources – it analyzes, synthesizes, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.


Systematic Review is a very special beast. Originating in Medicine as an aspect of "evidence based medicine", the systematic review has now been adopted in the Social Sciences. The key aspect is of the systematic review is replicability.

Rather than relying on individual judgment to select items from the literature,  the systematic review aims to produce a list of sources which can be replicated by anybody using the same search strategies on the same databases. 

For this reason, every aspect of the search, and every decision made about sources used or search terms chosen, must be recorded. Frequently a team of researchers is involved, and, where results are hand-picked, this is done separately by two or three individuals, working simultaneously on the same material.

It is strongly advised that you work with a librarian in planning your searches and identifying your databases.


Always evaluate the information you read. Be particularly careful when consulting Wikipedia and similar internet sites as the authority and reliability of the content cannot be guaranteed. Remember to work SMART:

Source - is the source well known, reliable, up to date?

Motivation - why does this site exist? Are they selling a product? Supporting a particular lobby?

Authority - is the author's name on the page? Is the author well known in the field?

Review - has the information been reviewed/checked by others working in the field?

Two sources - is the information supported by other reliable sources?

The databases we subscribe to generally index articles that have been peer reviewed by experts in the field before being accepted for publication.

Academic Writing Books

SAGE Research Methods

SAGE Research Methods (SRM)

SAGE Research Methods (SRM) is an award-winning tool designed to help you create research projects and understand the methods behind them. 

SRM's taxonomy of over 1,400 methods terms links to authoritative content, including:
* Over 600 books
* Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks
* The entire "Little Green Book" and "Little Blue Book" series
* Two major works collating a selection of journal articles
* Newly commissioned videos

Disclaimer: The databases interface has been updated since this video was created.

General Research Books