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Researching the Literature Review

How to guide for researching and managing the literature review.

What is the Literature Review?

The literature review is defined by a guiding concept - your thesis or research question!  It is not simply a list of summaries or the literature in your field. It serves several purposes:

  • provides a background and theoretical basis for your research question or problem
  • demonstrates your ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize previous work in your field
  • sets the context and significance for your research topic
  • identifies gaps in the literature (i.e. - shows why your work is important!)

The background information for an essay is highlighted

The significance section of a paper is highlighted

Find OSU Theses & Dissertations

One of the best ways to get started with your literature review is to read other literature reviews from a completed thesis or dissertation written by someone from your department.

1. Find an OSU thesis or dissertation using ScholarsArchive@OSU

  • Use a keyword search if you know the name of a past student or specific research topic. However, to get an overview of common trends in theses and dissertations in your department, use the search limiters on the left side of the page. 
  • First (before entering any search terms), narrow by degree field. Click the "more" button, and then select the A-Z sort option to look through the list of degree names alphabetically. Choose the department or field name that matches your area of study.


  • To find recent theses or dissertations, next refine your results on the left-hand side of the results page using the Date or Commencement Year option. Expand the box, then enter your preferred date range. For example 2021-2023. Then click "limit."
  • From this focused list of results, click on a thesis or dissertation title. 
  • To view the full text, select the Download PDF link on the left side of the page.

2. Analyze the literature review you have selected.

  • Use the table of contents to find the literature review. Sometimes there are multiple literature reviews in a single thesis or dissertation if your department uses the article format.
  • Ask yourself questions about how the literature review is structured and how sources are used. For example:
    • How many sources are used to back up ideas?
    • How old are the sources?
    • Do sources come from multiple format types (e.g., journal articles, government websites, books, conference proceedings)?
    • What citation style is used?
    • How long is the literature review?
    • How much depth does the author use to back up their ideas?
    • How does the author transition from one idea to the next?

Checklist for Starting

Each department has its own unique expectations for the literature review.  Make sure you're on the right track by doing some background work.

  1. First, read theses done by others in your department and take notes about your questions (it will make you look smart).
  2. Next, talk to your advisor about their expectations for your literature review (and thesis).
  3. Find out where the final product of your literature review will end up (literature reviews can be different in scope, length and rhetorical purpose depending on how they are used) -
  •    In a thesis or dissertation only

  •    In a journal article

  •    In a grant proposal