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Writing a Literature Review in the Arts and Humanities

What to Expect

  • Writing a literature review is about making connections with the related works and with your own research. See the big picture. 

  • It is quite often impossible to search (and read) "everything" that has been written and published on a topic. Be selective. 

  • At some point, you have to STOP searching and reading, and start to write a draft. Know when to stop. 

  • It could be an overwhelming task. Setting up your research toolbox before you jump into the task will help you manage the process better. Get prepared.

1) Understand the purpose of your literature review

Depending on the purpose of your literature review, you will need different ways to get prepared.  The following tips will help you visualize what your final product will look like. 

  • As a term paper for a class? 
    • Interpret the requirements of the assignment
      • Length, due dates, # of sources to use, which style the paper should be formatted, etc.
  • As part of a research article? 
    • If you have a specific journal in mind to publish your research article, read 2-3 articles published in the journal and read the "author instruction"  of the journal.  
  • For a literature review article? 
    • Make yourself familiar with the common format of review articles in the field 
    • Many scholarly journals publish review articles 
  • As a chapter for a dissertation or thesis? 
    • Read the literature review chapter of 2-3 dissertations or theses directed by your dissertation adviser, committee members, or the recent dissertations on the chosen topic.

2) Building or Polishing Your Research Toolbox

Toolbox for Searching:

  • Discover and use the key databases and journals in your field.
    • FSU Research Guides can help you to identify these!
  • Look for advanced search techniques for more precise and effective searching.
    • Check out "Help" page of a database (if available) to learn the techniques
  • Track your search strategies.
    • You could use a Search Log Template to document searches you've already tried.
    • Take a look at this Sample Search Log (Topic: Adolescent Depression & Attachment ) to learn how to use a Template.
  • Try citation chaining methods (or how to search cited references)
    • Review the bibliographies of other authors to see which works are being cited and are relevant to your topic.
    • Cited reference searching with Google Scholar or Web of Science is a way to discover more recent works that have cited a known book or article.
  • Use Interlibrary Loan for access to materials not held locally at FSU Libraries, but available to you from other institutions.
  • Need Help?

Toolbox for Writing:

  • Familiarize yourself with the required publishing style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) 
  • Consider using a citation management tools to manage your references.
  • Understand what plagiarism is and how to avoid it



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