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Mechanical Engineering

Starting a Literature Review

If you have never completed a literature review, it can be daunting at first, or tempting to rush through without taking the steps needed to complete the review.  The main point to remember is that you are trying to summarize the current state of research in a specific area/field.  This is done by looking through different sources from different authors/research groups and then putting that information into a single document.

What can be confusing is that literature reviews will vary in length and number of references depending on the topic, field, and depth of research.  For example, a basic literature review for a graduate class might have 15-20 references while a literature review conducted for a dissertation may have 100 or more references.  It is the researcher's job to assess what is needed for their application like any other engineering project.

Finally, be sure to check out the UMD Libraries' Ethical Use of Information Guide to help you through this process!

Literature Review Steps

The basic steps of a literature review include: Search - Record - Evaluate & Analyze - Synthesize.  These can be more explicitly put into the following six steps:

1. Define your topic/research question

2. Search relevant databases, journals, and more (Search)

3. Document references found applicable to topic in a citation manager or similar (Evaluate)

4. Organize references into sub-topics (Analyze)

5. Document results through a summary of the state of research discovered via the steps above (Synthesize)

6. (Recommended) Publish your results!

Examples & Further Information

Finally, check out information on systematic reviews - a growing type of scholarly review that contains more analysis as part of the review process: