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ACAP Library Pathfinder: Literature Review

Learn about the process of searching, choosing, recording and evaluating information for writing a literature review.

Identify and Articulate the Topic

The first and quite possibly the most important step in the process is identifying the topic for review. It is vital to choose a topic that will both hold your interest and that is not too broad in scope, leaving you with an overwhelming amount of literature to manage. Neither should it be too obscure or narrow in scope, leaving you with a lack of appropriate literature with which to achieve a satisfactory outcome. 

Choosing a topic may be done by identifying a problem or area of interest out of professional or clinical practice (or placement). This may help to hold your interest throughout the process. Ideas may also be gleaned by reading literature in and around a general topic of interest. This may include looking at evidence-based practice, other literature reviews or systematic reviews, as well as research, theoretical or opinion articles.

Articulating the topic, by writing a hypothesis or thesis statement that is in a clear and concise academic register, will go a long way to preparing you for the literature search. The more clearly defined your statement, the easier it will be to choose appropriate keywords and phrases, thus facilitating the formulation of a methodical and effective search strategy to find the most appropriate literature.

If you are having trouble articulating the research question, look through the support material on the first page of this guide, book a session with Student Learning Support or make contact with your teacher or tutor.  All of these resources will guide you through the following steps as necessary:

  • Identifying a possible research project
  • Conducting a preliminary review of the literature
  • Defining a research question
  • Preparing a research proposal
  • Obtaining ethics approval.

Refine and Clarify the Topic

After writing the initial statement and beginning the literature search, you will most likely need to refine or broaden the scope of the topic depending on the results of your initial searches. You may also need to further clarify the statement as you collect new key terms and concepts from the material you find. You may even need to change the focus or rethink the topic completely, keeping in mind that you will be limited by time (a due date) and to a word count. These adjustments to your thesis statement will then inform a new set of criteria with which to search the literature.