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ISS6302 / Interdisciplinary Methods in Social-Ecological Research

Library Research Guide created Fall 2022 for ISS 6302. Updated June 2024.

Literature Review

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers.

A good literature review is NOT simply a list describing or summarizing several articles. A good literature review shows signs of synthesis and understanding of the topic. It surveys, summarizes, and links together research (a.k.a., literature) in a given field.


A good literature review:

1. is organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question

2. synthesizes results into a summary of what is and is not known

3. identifies areas of controversy in the literature

4. formulates questions that need further research

The purpose of a Literature Review.

4 stages to a literature review: problem, search, evaluate, analysis

empirical research word cloudHow to find Empirical Studies:

1. Read the descriptions of the databases to decide which one to use.

2. Click on the database link.

3. Do an advanced search.

4. Type in your keywords.

Use AND between disparate terms and OR between similar terms.

For example:

line 1: "food desert"


line 2: miami OR "south florida" OR overtown OR ... *

Notice I put the phrases in "quotes". This tells the database to look for the words side by side.

Use * for stems of words.  For example, grocer* will find grocery, groceries, grocer, etc.

5. Click the box in the database for Peer-Reviewed. This will provide results that are reviewed by other scholars and evaluated whether the research is sound, reliable, and valid.

6. When you get your results, read through the abstract to look for hints of an empirical study.

Hints include:

a. specific research question

b. primary data

c. ability to replicate

d. conclusions

7. If there isn't a link to the full-text, click FIND IT @FIU to search for the full-text.

What is an Empirical Study?

It is report of research based on actual observation or experiment.

  • Is there a specific research question?
  • Does the article include primary data?
  • Can the study be replicated?
  • How are conclusions formed?

common mistakes to avoid: missing relevant info., lack of time management, not critically thinking, not using empirical studies, unrelated sources, excluding research.

Some questions to think about as you develop your literature review:

    • Who are the significant research personalities in this area?
    • Is there consensus about the topic?
    • What aspects have generated significant debate on the topic?
    • What methods or problems were identified by others studying in the field and how might they impact your research?
    • What is the most productive methodology for your research based on the literature you have reviewed?
    • What is the current status of research in this area?
    • What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to you?

When deciding what publications to include in a literature review, ask the following questions.

  • Credibility -- What are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. case studies, empirical evidence, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- Were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate for the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- Is the author's perspective even-handed or biased? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- Which of the publications have most convincing or least convincing thesis?
  • Value -- Does the work contribute to an understanding of the subject?