Skip to Main Content

Teaching and Learning Research Guide

An online reference guide for students, faculty, and staff in the Teaching and Learning Department.

Literature Review Overview

A literature review involves both the literature searching and the writing. The purpose of the literature search is to:

  • reveal existing knowledge
  • identify areas of consensus and debate
  • identify gaps in knowledge
  • identify approaches to research design and methodology
  • identify other researchers with similar interests
  • clarify your future directions for research

List above from Conducting A Literature Search, Information Research Methods and Systems, Penn State University Libraries

A literature review provides an evaluative review and documentation of what has been published by scholars and researchers on a given topic. In reviewing the published literature, the aim is to explain what ideas and knowledge have been gained and shared to date (i.e., hypotheses tested, scientific methods used, results and conclusions), the weakness and strengths of these previous works, and to identify remaining research questions: A literature review provides the context for your research, making clear why your topic deserves further investigation.

Before You Search

  1. Select and understand your research topic and question.
  2. Identify the major concepts in your topic and question.
  3. Brainstorm potential keywords/terms that correspond to those concepts.
  4. Identify alternative keywords/terms (narrower, broader, or related) to use if your first set of keywords do not work.
  5. Determine (Boolean*) relationships between terms.
  6. Begin your search.
  7. Review your search results.
  8. Revise & refine your search based on the initial findings.

*Boolean logic provides three ways search terms/phrases can be combined, using the following three operators: AND, OR, and NOT.

Search Process

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

For most research you will use multiple source types such as: annotated bibliographies; articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers; books; blogs; conference papers; data sets; dissertations; organization, company, or government reports; reference materials; systematic reviews; archival materials; curriculum materials; 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 approach.

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 educators, scholars, librarians, employees etc. at schools, organizations, and agencies


  • Annual Reviews and Bibliographies  e.g., Annual Review of Psychology
  • Internet  e.g., Discussion Groups, Listservs, Blogs, social networking sites
  • Grant Databases  e.g., Foundation Directory Online,
  • Conference Proceedings  e.g., American Educational Research Association Online Paper Repository
  • Newspaper Indexes  e.g., Access World News, Ethnic NewsWatch, New York Times Historical
  • Journal Indexes/Databases and EJournal Packages  e.g., Educator's Reference Complete, SAGE
    • Be sure to follow the tips in the "Finding Empirical Studies" box on the right side of the page if you need to find an empirical study.
  • Citation Indexes  e.g., ERIC (Education Resources Information Center), Educational Administration Abstracts, PsycINFO
  • Specialized Data  e.g., GEMS (Growth and Enhancement of Montana Students), IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System)
  • Book Catalogs – e.g., local library catalog or discovery search, WorldCat
  • Library Web Scale Discovery Service  e.g., OneSearch
  • Web Search Engines  e.g., Google, Yahoo
  • Digital Collections  e.g., Archives & Special Collections Digital Collections, Digital Public Library of America
  • Associations/Community groups/Institutions/Organizations  e.g., Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Montana Office of Public Instruction, National Education Association

Remember there is no one portal for all information!

Database Searching Videos, Guides, and Examples

ProQuest (platform for ERIC, PsycINFO, and Dissertations & Theses Global databases, among other databases) search videos:

ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center)



If you are new to research, check out the Searching for Information tutorials and videos for foundational information.

Finding Empirical Studies

In ERIC: Check the box next to “143: Reports - Research” under "Document type" from the Advanced Search page

In PsycINFO: Check the box next to “Empirical Study” under "Methodology" from the Advanced Search page

In OneSearch: There is not a specific way to limit to empirical studies in OneSearch, you can limit your search results to peer-reviewed journals and or dissertations, and then identify studies by reading the source abstract to determine if you’ve found an empirical study or not.

Summarize Studies in a Meaningful Way

The Writing and Public Speaking Center at UM provides not only tutoring but many other resources for writers and presenters. Three with key tips for writing a literature review are:

If you are new to research, check out the Presenting and Organizing Information tutorials and videos for foundational information. You may also want to consult the Purdue OWL Academic Writing resources or APA Style Workshop content.