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Speech, Language, Hearing and Occupational Sciences Research Guide: Literature Review

An online reference guide for students, faculty, and staff in the School of Speech, Language, Hearing and Occupational Sciences, and those researching SLHOS topics.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and the strengths and weaknesses of that information. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis).

A literature review must do these things:

  • be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you are developing
  • synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • formulate questions that need further research

A literature review is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. Instead, organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your research question.

Read the Literature

Empirical Research Articles. Published accounts of the research including methodology and detailed descriptions and discussions of the findings.

Theoretical Articles. Critiques an existing theory or proposes a new one.

Literature Review Articles. A review of the literature on a specific topic and includes new insights that advance knowledge.

Anecdotal Reports. Accounts of personal experiences that happened incidentally rather than through research (used sparingly).

Reports on Professional Practices and Standards. Discussions on practices or standards in the field.

Literature Review Resources

Search Process

The type of information you want to find and the practices of your discipline drive the types of sources you seek and where you search.

You may use multiple source types such as: annotated bibliographies; articles, books, conference papers, dissertations, association or government reports, professional guidelines and technical reports, reference materials such as handbooks and encyclopedias, patient information handouts, and more. It can be helpful to develop a comprehensive approach to review different sources and where you will search for each. Below is an example.

Utilize Current Awareness Services Identify and browse current issues of the most relevant journals for your topic; Setup email or RSS Alerts, e.g., Journal Table of Contents, Saved Searches

Consult Experts Identify and search for the publications of or contact Key Researchers, Librarians, etc. at institutions, organizations, and agencies


Remember there is no one portal for all information!

Narrow Your Topic

Step 1: Select a general topic (speech impairments) and search an appropriate database (e.g., CINAHL Complete).

Step 2: Use the ideas below to identify terms that will help narrow your topic. Note: Not all databases are designed the same. Choose the features available for the database you are using.

  • Use the advanced search features (document type, publication date) to narrow the reference list
  • Retrieve a few articles from your search and locate the lists of key words, descriptors, or subject terms (speech dysfluency)
  • Use the thesaurus to identify broader (speech disabilities), narrower (delayed speech), and related terms (communication disorders).
  • Use the subject search to identify subdivisions (genetic aspects) or related subjects (stuttering)

Step 3: Use the descriptors to modify your search.

Step 4: Review the search results and identify subcategories (young children, patients with Parkinson's disease)

Step 5: Redefine your topic more narrowly and identify the articles that pertain to your new topic. Prepare a list of references for these articles.

Keep in Mind:

  • Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) allow you to combine or exclude terms/phrases in your search.
  • Most topics are interdisciplinary, so don't limit your search to one field or subject database.

Begin Your Review

Preread. Scan the first part of each article to get an idea of the author's hypothesis or research question. Scan the rest of the article noting headings and subheadings. Read the last section for a summary of the research purpose, methods, and major findings.

Organize. Based on the overview, group the articles by categories. Sort the articles into groups by topics and subtopics, then in chronological order. It will be much easier to analyze the research literature if you read all the articles in a category and subcategory at one time.

Take Notes. Use a consistent format for your notes. Since you will encounter inconsistencies in the articles, you will want to have a format for taking notes that will allow you to identify similarities/differences and strengths/weaknesses in the studies later. Be sure to write page numbers for information copied verbatim.

Analyze Literature

Take note of...

  • Explicit definitions of key terms in the literature
  • Key statistics to include in your introduction to grab your reader's attention
  • Direct quotes (use sparingly in a review of the literature)
  • Strengths and weaknesses in the methodology
  • Evidence rather than assertions (It is thought...., One may conclude...)
  • Patterns and trends across the research articles
  • Gaps in the literature