Conducting Literature Reviews

The APA definition of a literature review (from

 Survey of previously published literature on a particular topic to define and clarify a particular problem; summarize previous investigations; and to identify relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature, and suggest the next step in solving the problem.

 Literature Reviews should:

  • Provide an overview of the topic including
    • Key concepts that are being researched
    • The areas that are ripe for more research—where the gaps and inconsistencies in the literature are
    • A critical analysis of research that has been previously conducted
    • Will include primary and secondary research
  • Writing the Literature Review:
    • Be selective—you’ll review many sources, so pick the most important parts of the articles/books.
  • Organizing your Literature Review:
    • Although this structure will not necessarily work for all literature reviews, most literature reviews have the following components:
      • Introduction: Provides an overview of your topic, including the major problems and issues that have been studied.
      • Discussion of Methodologies:  If there are different types of studies conducted, identifying what types of studies have been conducted is often provided.
      • Identification and Discussion of Studies: Provide overview of major studies conducted, and if there have been follow-up studies, identify whether this has supported or disproved results from prior studies.
      • Identification of Themes in Literature: If there has been different themes in the literature, these are also discussed in literature reviews.  For example, if you were writing a review of treatment of OCD, cognitive-behavioral therapy and drug therapy would be themes to discuss.
      • Conclusion/Discussion—Summarize what you’ve found in your review of literature, and identify areas in need of further research or gaps in the literature.

Finding Literature Reviews in Psycinfo

Because literature reviews are a major part of research in psychology, Psycinfo allows you to easily limit to literature reviews.  In the advanced search screen, you can select "literature review" as the methodology.


Now all you'll need to do is enter your search terms, and your results should show you many literature reviews conducted by professionals on your topic.

When you find an literature review article that is relevant to your topic, you should look at who the authors cite and who is citing the author, so that you can begin to use their research to help you locate sources and conduct your own literature review.  The best way to do that is to use the "Cited References" and "Times Cited" links in Psycinfo, which is pictured below.

This article on procrastination has 423 references, and 48 other articles in psycinfo are citing this literature review.  And, the citations are either available in full text or to request through ILL.  Check out  the article "The Nature of Procrastination" to see how these features work.


By searching for existing literature reviews, and then using the references of those literature reviews to begin your own literature search, you can efficiently gather the best research on a topic.  You'll want to keep in mind that you'll need to summarize and analyze the articles you read, and won't be able to use every single article you choose.

You can use the search box below to get started.

More Help on Conducting Literature Reviews

Adelphi Library's tutorial, Conducting a Literature Review in Education and the Behavioral Sciences covers how to gather sources from library databases for your literature review.

The University of Toronto also provides "A Few Tips on Conducting a Literature Review" that offers some good advice and questions to ask when conducting a literature review.

Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) has several resources that discuss literature reviews:  (for grad students, but is still offers some good tips and advice for anyone writing a literature review)



Journal articles (covers more than 1,700 periodicals), chapters, books, dissertations and reports on psychology and related fields.