Before conducting your own research, it's important to know what research has already been done that addresses your topic in some way. This serves two purposes:
- You'll have a better understanding of some of the issues related to your question
- You might be able to re-use an existing survey instrument or set of questions
A literature review is often included at the beginning of a research paper to summarize and synthesize existing research on the topic, and to discuss the methodologies used by other researchers.
Conducting a literature review involves using library resources to find out what research has already been published on your topic. You will not necessarily find someone who had answered your exact question, but instead will find people who have researched related topics and questions in ways that have some bearing on what you're studying. For example, if your research is about how often people read news stories by way of social media versus directly visiting a newspaper website, you may look for research on the rates of newspaper reading among people of different age groups, or rates of social media usage. You may also look for research about the percentage of social media posts that link to news sources versus other types of content. These will all be relevant to your question and help inform both your own thinking and the design of your survey.
Once you have decided on the organization structure of your literature review, create an outline. An outline is a good way to organize you ideas, articles, quotations and references.
Create the outline based on your organization. If you have organized your review chronologically, label time periods that mark changes in the history of your topic. Example:
1. Origins 1970s
- White, 1970, p 72-95
- George, 1972, p 3-19
- Wilder, 1972, p 45-60
- White, 1983, p 77-85
- Underwood, 1985, p 125-140
- Jemison, 1998, p 42-56
- Thorson, 2013, p 28-45
- Duffy, 2014, p 67-82
- Rodgers, 2015, p 27-46
As you begin reading the articles, whenever you find a good quote, mark it with the part of the outline in which it fits. Make note of the author, year and page number whenever you run across something in your reading that falls into a subsection in your review outline.