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Conducting a Literature Review: 4. Read & Analyze the Literature

A guide to the basic steps of doing a literature review.

Evaluate As You Go

Before deciding whether or not to incorporate what you have found into your literature review, you need to evaluate the resources to make sure they contain information that is authoritative, reliable and relevant.

Evaluating Sources of Information video


Reading the Literature

  • Read, summarize or describe each article noting your findings and impressions.
  • Examine each article for strengths and weaknesses and validity of findings.
  • Is the author objective?  Is the information presented in an unbiased manner? 
  • Try to extract the unique concepts of the article that are central to a full understanding of the topic.
  • Look for points of difference between the articles.
  • Note that researchers may favor different methods such as quantitative or qualitative studies, look for what methods were used.
  • Take thorough notes on each article or book to be included to help ensure that you don't have to go through them over and over again.


Researchers should remain objective about their work. In deciding what information to include in the lit review, you should ...

  • keep an open mind

  • represent both sides of a contentious idea

  • consider work that runs counter to your own research hypothesis

Research Article Activity Worksheet from APA

Use this worksheet to help to find, cite, analyze, and summarize a scholarly research article. For each step of the activity, type your responses directly into the text fields provided, or copy the questions into your preferred word-processing program and answer them there. Complete this activity multiple times to help you write papers such as literature reviews.

Research Article Activity Worksheet from APA

Questions to Consider

When deciding what information to include in the literature review, it is important to look critically at each article, book, or other form of information.  Here are a few examples of questions to pose for each item that you might include in your review:

  • Who funded the research studies?
  • Who did the research?
  • What was the (political, historical, social) context surrounding this research or study?
  • Pay attention to methodology: is it sound? what testing procedures, subjects, materials were used?

Recording Your Research

Write up your search methodology
By providing details about the methods you used when searching, you should give enough detail for someone else to reproduce the same or similar results. Your search methodolgy should include:
  • where you searched (e.g. database names)
  • when you did your searches (e.g date viewed or retrieved)
  • limits you applied to your searches (e.g. date ranges, language, document type, etc.)
Write up your search strategy
Search strategies are often included as an appendix to a literature review and should give enough detail for someone else to reproduce the same or similar results. Your search strategy should include:
  • how you searched (e.g. keywords and/or subjects)
  • search terms used (e.g. words and phrases)
  • search techniques used (e.g. nesting, truncation, etc.)
  • how you combined searches (e.g. AND / OR / NOT)
Record your results
You may want to record results for all of your searches - this may be included as part of your search methodology or search strategy. This will help you and your readers to determine how much information may already be available on a specific subject and/or how effective your search strategies were.