Conducting a Literature Review

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This guide is designed as a starting point for graduate students conducting literature reviews for their thesis, dissertation, or grant proposal.

Official Definition:

A literature review is an assessment of a body of research that addresses a research question. It aims to review the critical points of current knowledge, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic.

Purpose of a Literature Review:

  • is a building block for your thesis or dissertation
  • is an account of the major, peer-reviewed works published about your narrow topic


  • Framing a research question
  • Searching relevant bodies of literature
  • Managing search results
  • Synthesizing the research literature
  • Writing an assessment of the literature

This process is iterative. As you gain an understanding of your research topic, you will return to earlier steps to rethink, refine and rework your literature review.

Infographic: 6 Steps for Writing a Literature Review (from Wiley Exchanges Blog)


Literature Review Definitions

Below are definitions from: Booth, A. Papaioannou, D., and Sutton, A. (2016) Systematic approaches to a successful literature review. London: SAGE PUblicaitons, Ltd.

  • Mapping Review: "A rapid search of the literature aiming to give a broad overview of the characteristics of a topic area. Mapping of existing research, identification of gaps, and a summary assessment of the quantity and quality of the available evidence helps to decide future areas for research for systematic reviews." p. 264
  • Mixed Method Review: "A literature review that seeks to bring together data from quantitative and qualitative studies integrating them in a way that facilitates subsequent analysis." p. 265
  • Meta-analysis Review: "is a qualitative literature review method used widely as an alternative approach to the narrative literature review. It uses a set of statistical procedures to integrate, summarize or organize a set of reported statistical findings of studies that investigate the same research questions using the same methods of measurement. Many reviewers endorse it as a practical and systematic way of drawing review conclusions." p. 153
  • Narrative Review: "The term used to describe a conventional overview of the literature, particularly when contrasted with a systematic review." p. 265
  • Qualitative Synthesis Review: "a review that attempts to synthesize and analyze findings from primary qualitative research studies." p. 267
  • Systematic Review: "a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select and critically appraise relevant research and to collect and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review." p. 271
  • Scoping Review: "A type of review that has as its primary objective the identification of the size and quality of research in a topic area in order to inform the subsequent review." p. 269

See also a table of main review types characterized by methods used in:

Grant, M.J. & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of the 14 review types and assoicated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal 26(2), 91-108. doi/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

Literature Review writing guides in the library

Print Books


Finding examples of Literature Reviews

Doing a literature review for a thesis or dissertation is a standard practice in academia. Completed literature reviews can be found in your discipline by examining completed thesis texts.

Do a keyword search in CURVE, Carleton University's institutional repository, for electronic theses and dissertations, or search Dissertation and Theses@Carleton Proquest database.

Search Dissertations and Theses Global for international theses.

Reviews can also be found by searching Summon and attaching the phrase "literature review" to your topic.


Note: If the library does not have what you need, you can order books and journal articles from other libraries through RACER but you need to register before you can start using it.

Searching for Books

  • Subject Headings and Keywords
    • Search the library Catalogue using subject headings or keywords
    • Library of Congress Subject Headings are words and phrases assigned to articles, books, and other items that describe the subject content. To ensure the comprehensiveness of your literature review, you should be identifying the subject headings associated with your research. Read more on Subject Headings.
    • Keyword Searching Help
  • Summon is a tool that searches everything in the library catalogue (books, ebooks, journal titles, games, music, videos, government information, maps, and more!), almost all of the articles and other sources in the databases that we subscribe to, plus research by Carleton faculty, staff and students found in our institutional repository, CURVE.

Grey Literature and Government information

Keeping track of your research

Data Analysis Tools

Content last updated: February 7, 2019