How to Conduct a Solid Literature Review


What is a literature review?

A literature review is a piece of academic writing demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the academic literature on a specific topic placed in context. A literature review also includes a critical evaluation of the material; this is why it is called a literature review rather than a literature report.

Types of Literature Review

Types of literature review

Below are the steps you can follow to conduct a literature review:

1. Specify the need for the review: Why you are conducting the review? Most of the PhD students conduct literature review at the start of their PhD. The aim here is to identify the research gap that they can fill in their PhD. There can be other reasons for literature review too.

2. Define the research questions: In consult ation with your advisor, you will specify the broader research topic for your PhD. Then, you will specify the initial set of research questions for the literature review. Mostly the questions are of the style that what are the key challenges and solutions in a particular domain.


3. Conduct a pilot study: Once you specify the initial research questions, then you will manually identify around 10 primary studies relevant to your topic. Based on these 10 papers, check whether you can answer the initial set of questions. If not, try to modify your questions accordingly.

4. Design the search string: Define a search string based on your research questions that can retrieve relevant papers from well-known databases such as IEEE, ACM, Google Scholar, etc. You can verify the search string by making sure that it returns the already known 10 relevant papers.

5. Define inclusion and exclusion criteria: The search string will return a larger number of papers. All of these will not be relevant to your literature review. So, you will define inclusion and exclusion criteria to help you guide in the selection process. You can include study quality assessment in this step.

6. Select the relevant studies: Using the inclusion and exclusion criteria, select the most suitable studies that can answer your research questions. You can do this selection based on reading paper title, paper abstract, or the whole paper.

7. Start extracting the data from the papers: Once the study selection is complete, design a form that you will use for data extraction. This form determines what items you will extract from the papers. Start reading each paper and extract items as per the designed data extraction form.

8. Analyzing and reporting the data: Once data is extracted from all the papers, you will analyze the data using various techniques (e.g., thematic analysis) to answer the research questions. Alongside the analysis, you can also report the data in form of a report or secondary study.