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How to Write a Literature Review

A self-guided tutorial that walks you through the process of conducting a Literature Review.

Identify the question

Identify the question

In some cases, such as for a course assignment or a research project you're working on with a faculty mentor, your research question will be determined by your professor. If that's the case, you can move on to the next stepOtherwise, you may need to explore questions on your own. 

A few suggestions

choose a topic icon  Choose a topic that interests you! You'll be spending a lot of time with it.A student searching the Libraries' stacks for information

stack of books icon  Explore your topic using your textbooks, reference books, and articles and by consulting your professor. 

question mark icon  Be open to tweaking your research question as you gather more information.

Photo Credit: UO Libraries

Developing a Research Question

Developing a Research Question

According to The Craft of Research (2003), a research question is more than a practical problem or something with a yes/no answer. A research question helps you learn more about something you don't already know and it needs to be significant enough to interest your readers.

Your Curiosity + Significance to Others = Research Question

How to Get Started

In a research paper, you develop a unique question and then synthesize scholarly and primary sources into a paper that supports your argument about the topic.

  1. Identify your Topic (This is the starting place from where you develop a research question.)
  2. Refine by Searching (find background information) (Before you can start to develop a research question, you may need to do some preliminary background research to see (1) what has already been done on the topic and (2) what are the issues surrounding the topic.) HINT: Find background information in Google and Books.
  3. Refine by Narrowing (Once you begin to understand the topic and the issues surrounding it, you can start to narrow your topic and develop a research question. Do this by asking the 6 journalistic question words.

Ask yourself these 6 questions 

These 6 journalistic question words can help you narrow your focus from a broad topic to a specific question.

Who: Are you interested in a specific group of people? Can your topic be narrowed by gender, sex, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status or something else? Are there any key figures related to your topic?

What: What are the issues surrounding your topic? Are there subtopics? In looking at background information, did you notice any gaps or questions that seemed unanswered?

Where: Can your topic be narrowed down to a geographic location? Warning: Don't get too narrow here. You might not be able to find enough information on a town or state.

When: Is your topic current or historical? Is it confined to a specific time period? Was there a causative event that led your topic to become an area of study?

Why: Why are you interested in this topic? Why should others be interested?

How: What kinds of information do you need? Primary sources, statistics? What is your methodology?

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