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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Master ISS literature search: Introduction


On this page:


What is a (systematic) literature review?

Why is this important

Step-by-step plan 


Other pages:

Phrasing the search question

Search engines

Search strategy and search techniques

Getting hold of the full text

Selecting and evaluating sources

Referring in APA style


Summary and feedback


You can go from one page to the other by clicking on the tabs in the black top bar (for example, go to the tab Search engines) or use the next/previous buttons at the bottom of the page.

Read the pages from top to bottom.

You can navigate to specific topics or pages by clicking the links in the Index.


This LibGuide helps you set up a (systematic) literature review. In this LibGuide you focus on one (sub)question. The pages of this LibGuide correspond to the first five steps of the 'step-by-step plan for a systematic literature review' (see box below).

Do you want to know more about systematically searching for literature? Then complete our online training Compass+: Systematically searching for literature.

Lots of success!

What is a (systematic) literature review?

A (systematic) literature review is a literature review specially designed to select and assess individual studies which relate to a specific research question and to combine the results. This must be done in a clear and reproducible way.

A systematic literature review includes:

  • clear inclusion criteria: what criteria does a study have to meet to be included in the literature review?
  • a systematic search strategy in which you specify your research question as explicitly as possible
  • data extraction: what results can I derive from the different studies?
  • data analysis: a descriptive comparison of the results of individual studies

So: a (systematic) literature review is an overview of all available (empirical) studies around a specific research question (if necessary viewed within a certain period). In particular for newcomers in a certain research field such an overview can be of enormous help. Also the fact that the results of certain studies are clustered leads to a good quality answer to your research question.

Why is this important?

  • Before you can formulate a correct hypothesis you need a good overview of the literature
  • Later on you will use the literature review in your research plan. In this plan you must be able to give each (sub)question an empirical and theoretical basis. Together with for instance explaining the social and scientific relevance of your question, the literature review is the basis of your introduction.
  • Finally it is important that you learn to look at scientific literature with a critical eye and learn to assess the work of others at its true value.

Step-by-step plan for a systematic literature review

1. Formulate a research question (including determining the inclusion criteria)
2. Choose your databases and carry out a literature search 
3. Get hold of the full text
of the relevant literature and check against your inclusion criteria
4. Select the literature you found on relevance (based on title and abstract)
5. Do a quality check: check the relevant literature on scholarly reliability (based on full text)
6. Data extraction: extract data from the relevant studies 
7. Data analysis and data synthesis: interpreting the data from the different studies and trying to cluster the results so that it leads to an answer to the research question
8. Writing and editing your literature review

N.B. Steps 6, 7 and 8 will not be dealt with in this libguide, but remain part of your research plan.