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Researching the Literature Review

How to guide for researching and managing the literature review.

Finding Patterns

Once clue that you are starting to approach the end of your literature searching is when you begin to recognize consistent patterns in what you find.  These patterns may come in the form of:

• Recurring authors
• Recurring labs or institutions
• Recurring structures of how thoughts/findings are organized
These are all signals you pick up that let you know you are getting a comprehensive overview of your field.

What You're Not Including

You won't be able to include every article, proceeding or book chapter you find (take a look at a literature review from a thesis in your department - it's probably not more than 20 pages long at the very most).  However, putting some thought into what NOT to include should receive some deliberate consideration.  Is the item:

  • Out of scope?
  • Out of date?
  • Redundant?

Having a rationale for why you included the works you did (and those you didn't) will help you to be able to explain these decisions to your committee and should ensure that you've included the most important and relevant articles for your topic.

Literature Review Rubric

Use the rubric below to evaluate the quality of your literature review.  This is not a rubric that your advisor or committee will specifically use; however, the criteria the rubric covers can be thought of as a set of best practices that most scholars try to look for when reading someone else's work.      







Did not present the topic to be examined

Presented the topic and the research need

Topic is clearly defined and context for research is provided


Report has no clear direction and subtopics are not connected

Basic flow of ideas but not all sections follow a logical order

Report goes from general to specific; transitions relate to sections


Major works omitted; significance to field not clear; criteria for inclusion not presented

Major works included but not covered in adequate depth; significance of selected resources discussed

Appropriate resources examined and covered in depth; significance of research critiqued


Did not attempt to synthesize the information or discuss the topic in the broader context of the scholarly literature

Some analysis and synthesis of ideas; discussed the history and relationships among key points found in the literature

Clear analysis and synthesis presented; demonstrated insight into problem; conclusions strongly supported


Ideas not expressed clearly; misspellings, incorrect grammar and punctuation

Writing is clear but not concise; paragraph or sentence structure repetitive or awkward

Writing is clear and concise; ideas are well-developed and coherent


Works cited were not listed for in-text citations or works cited included resources not mentioned in the report

Citations within text and in corresponding reference list were included with some formatting problems

In-text citations and reference list citations were complete and properly formatted


Adapted from Janet Rex's guide at UND and Boote, D.N. & Biele, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher. 34(6) p. 8.

Which Part Do You Struggle With?

Look at the rubric on this page.  Which part(s) do you tend to struggle with?  If you can target what gives you the most difficulty, this may make it easier to get focused help from your advisor, the Writing Center or a librarian.

Which Part Do You Struggle With?
Problem Statement/Introduction: 9 votes (14.75%)
Organized Progression: 8 votes (13.11%)
Content Coverage: 9 votes (14.75%)
Synthesis of Ideas: 15 votes (24.59%)
Clarity of Writing: 4 votes (6.56%)
Citations & References: 1 votes (1.64%)
None of these: 1 votes (1.64%)
All of these: 14 votes (22.95%)
Total Votes: 61