In Computer Science, you find yourself overwhelmed by the huge number of literature available over a certain subject.

I searched online on how to proceed and write a literature review (in a way that i could publish it).

A lot of the information online will go over the same generic things, so am seeking help in this community.

I would appreciate some advice/strategy from your previous experiences


Kotz, Daniel, and Jochen WL Cals. "Effective writing and publishing scientific papers-part I: how to get started." Journal of clinical epidemiology 66 (2013): 397.

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    If you do not have a good idea of what literature to consider, you might be the wrong person to write such a review. – Tobias Kildetoft May 12 '15 at 13:09
  • thank you for the useful answer :), i did ask a general question looking for as much help as possible. however what i meant by that question, is how far back should i read ( how many years back in publication ) because even the stuff published in 80s and 90s could be relevant – AnarKi May 12 '15 at 13:46

Let me share some insights, I hope it will be useful. I will break down my answer, based on your question's main dimensions, that is help, knowledge and motivation. Speaking about the first dimension, it is unclear to me what do you mean, so I will leave this aspect for you to clarify and for others to address.

In regard to knowledge, the best advice I can give is to get a decent book specifically on writing literature reviews (i.e., Hart, 2005) or, even, a good book on research methodology, which has comprehensive enough chapter on the topic (i.e., Booth, Colomb & Williams, 2004; Creswell, 2007, 2014; Davis & Parker, 1997). This is just to start. More importantly, IMHO, after you will read some theory on writing literature reviews or research manuscripts, is to start reading real literature reviews: either review/survey papers (for Computer Science, there are specialized journals that publish such papers, for example, ACM Computing Reviews and ACM Computing Surveys), or simply focused research papers on the topic of your interest (most of them will have a corresponding section, which is usually titled "Review of Literature", "Introduction", "Background", "State of the Art" or similarly).

Speaking about motivation for writing a literature review, that IMHO should come from your excitement about (interest in) a particular topic. If you won't have excitement or, at least, enough interest in a topic, I don't see how you can obtain motivation. It's that simple. Your other questions are rather broad, but I'm sure that you will be able to answer most of those questions after reading some foundational literature on research methodology, as I recommended above.


Booth, W., Colomb, G., & Williams J. (2004). The craft of research (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Creswell, J.W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J.W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Davis, G. B., & Parker, C. A. (1997). Writing the doctoral dissertation: A systematic approach (2nd ed.). Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series.

Hart, C. (2005). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Here are some generic points:

  • Your topic has to be narrow enough, but it does not need to be as narrow as a specific research question. For example, the topic should not be as broad as "German politics" (too much literature to cover), it can be as broad as "policy change in German federalism", and it should not be as narrow as "the impact of the reunification on policy change in German federalism" (because that would be a specific research question).
  • At first, read as much on your well-delineated topic as you can. Once you recognize certain sub-topics, issues, questions, patters, debates etc., begin to organize your reading and further research around these emergent sub-topics. Decide, which you would like to cover in more detail. This adds structure to both your work and to your review.
  • Start to write from day one. At first, you will only be able to write short notes. Later, you will be able to arrange those notes around the sub-topics that you begin to discover. This is the outline of your first draft.
  • Your review needs a structure. It should answer one or a small number of questions. Resist the temptation to try to summarize everything that has been written on a topic. Instead, the purpose of your review is to chart the territory and identify the research frontier. Someone who has read your review should be able to identify the open questions and possible avenues to answer them in the future.

More along those lines.

And there is also related question.

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