Literature Reviews

This guide provides information to understand the purpose of a Literature review, search for information, analysis; synthesis of the literature and writing the review.

Developing the research question

Start the process by:

  • considering a broad topic of research interest and then write it down
  • considering specific areas you wish to examine within this topic
  • considering key themes and elements of these specific topics to investigate in depth
  • considering how to work these key areas and elements into your research question.


Bear in mind that your supervisors will be looking for the following elements in your research question proposal:

  • What new knowledge will be generated for the discipline?
  • Why is it valuable?
  • How can the reader be assured the conclusions will be valid?
  • How will you present your findings?

Preliminary investigation

The next step is to undertake a preliminary investigation on your research topic. You need to be sure that there is not already a wealth of information in the area and that a gap exists for the research you wish to conduct.

The preliminary investigation will help you to refine your topic area.

Evaluating your research question

If your preliminary investigation into the literature is inconclusive or you cannot make headway then it is time to re-evaluate your research question. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Is your research question clear?
    • With so much research available on any given topic, research questions must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in helping the writer direct their research
  • Is your research question focused?
    • Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available
  • Is your research question complex?
    • Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts and should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer

York University, 2013 "Research Question Info Sheet".


Checklist of evaluation questions

To continue with this idea, use this checklist to evaluate your question:

  • Is the research question something others care about?
  • Is it arguable?
  • Is the research question a new spin on an old idea, or does it solve a problem?
  • Is the question too broad or too narrow?
  • Is there any ambiguity to the question?
  • Is the research question researchable within the given time frame and location?
  • What information is needed to answer the question?

Adapted from Duke Writing Studio: Duke University Thompson Writing Program, 2015 "What makes a good research question?"

Narrowing or broadening the research question