The process of writing a literature review

Person searching library shelves
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Writing a literature review is a complex and non-linear process. It usually involves reiterations of all or any of the following steps:

  1. Conducting a Library search for sources
  2. Taking notes while critically reading and analysing the literature
  3. Structuring the literature review
  4. Styling the language of the literature review.

Conducting a Library search for sources

One of the first and important steps in carrying out a literature review is to conduct an effective Library search which will help you identify the most relevant sources for your research topic.

If you need some assistance with searching the literature strategically, you might want to work through the Strategies and Resources for Searching the Literature module in this collection. Amongst other things, this module will help you to effectively:

  • form key words or descriptors for your topic
  • create a search query
  • find different and relevant types of resources
  • use more advanced searching techniques.

Taking notes

Taking effective notes is another key part of the process of writing up your literature review.

There is a variety of ways that one can use to take notes. These include:

In this module, we will focus on using an annotated bibliography as a note-taking technique.

Using an annotated bibliography to take notes

An annotated bibliography can be a useful way of taking notes as you read the literature and think about what you are reading. It allows you to collect both a summary of the key points from different readings as well as a critical assessment of the literature. It also allows you to provide comments about how a text relates both to your own research and to other literature.

An annotated bibliography has two main sections:

  1. A reference (bibliographic information or citation) in your chosen citation style.
  2. An annotation (description and comments on the source). The annotation usually provides:
    • a summary of the key points or arguments the source makes
    • a reflection on how the source contributes to your field of knowledge and how it might be useful in your own research
    • a critical analysis or evaluation of the ideas presented.

What to include in a summary?

When writing an annotated bibliography, start with a summary or description for each source. As you read, take notes in your own words of the aim of the research, the methodologies that have been used, the main arguments and overall findings, and the scope and limitations of the study. This will form the basis of your summary which will be in the form of a coherent 50–100-word paragraph or just two or three sentences.

How to reflect on the relevance of a source to your own research?

Writing a reflection for your annotated bibliography includes writing a few sentences explaining in what ways the source is useful for, or relates to, the overall theme of your research. This section of the annotation will be particularly helpful when you come to building an argument for your research in your literature review.

Ask yourself:

  • What does this source contribute to the ideas I am developing in my research or to the argument/s I am making?

It is worth mentioning that while your reflection states your personal ideas and evaluations, it should still be objective and unemotional.

What to include in a critical analysis?

In providing a critical analysis, you need to focus on the value of the material and sources you have read.
Ask yourself:
  • What are the strengths and limitations of the source in terms of aim, methodology, and findings?
  • Are the findings sound, logical and well researched?
  • Is the source original, important and of a high standard?
  • How does this source add to the research in the field?
  • Where is its place — and relationship — in the wider field of research and scholarly discussions?






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Research and Writing Skills for Academic and Graduate Researchers Copyright © 2022 by RMIT University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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