Research Experience for Undergradutes

Learn how to find and evaluate sources and how to read, write, and present on scientific topics

Writing Literature Reviews

What is a Literature Review?Magnifying glass with text article

A literature review is an overview of the previously
published research on a topic
. It represents the literature
that provides background information on your topic and
shows a correspondence between those writings and
your research question. 

A lit review should -

  • Explain the background of research on a topic
  • Demonstrate why a topic is significant to a subject area
  • Help focus your own research questions or problems
  • Discover relationships between research studies/ideas
  • Suggest unexplored ideas or populations
  • Identify major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic
  • Test assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias
  • Identify critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches
  • Indicate potential directions for future research
  • Lead to the hypothesis of your paper or research

The process

  1. Define the research questionbooks, laptop, pencil, and notes
    1. Don't be too broad
    2. Can be one of the toughest parts
    3. May require an initial search/review of literature
    4. Consider setting limits on the topic
  2. Plan approach to the research and review
  3. Search the literature
  4. Analyze the material you’ve found
  5. Managing the results of your research
  6. Writing your Review

Questions to answer

  • What is known about the subject?
  • Are there any gaps in the knowledge of the subject?
  • Have areas of further study been identified by other researchers that you may want to consider?
  • Is there consensus about the topic?
  • What aspects have generated significant debate on the topic?
  • What methods or problems were identified by others studying in the field and how might they impact your research?
  • What is the most productive methodology for your research based on the literature you have reviewed?
  • What is the current status of research in this area?
  • What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to you?
  • How detailed? Will it be a review of ALL relevant material or will the scope be limited to more recent material, e.g., the last five years.
  • Are you focusing on methodological approaches; on theoretical issues; on qualitative or quantitative research?


Managing your literature

You will be looking through a lot of materials for your review, and it's easy to lose track of a particular citation or how you got to a source

It can be helpful to keep a search log, a notebook, note cards, an online document, a Word document, a citation manager, etc.


     When & where you searched

     Terms and combinations that did or did not work

     Ideas for future searches

At the least keep track of all of your reference lists for your bibliography





UTSA Libraries supports several citation management tools that allow you to import citations directly from most sources including Library Quick Search, UTSA Libraries Databases, and Google Scholar.

Contents on this page adapted from Pitt Libraries - Literature Reviews