literature review 429

Getting Started

Before finalizing the literature review, you need to consider two things. First, you need to go through the process of identifying as many relevant studies as possible. Second, you need to understand how to organize the studies in a logical manner, and you have five different approaches from which to choose.

Upon successful completion of this assignment, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate in writing knowledge of developing a thorough literature review.


  • Textbook: Practice-Based Research in Social Work
  • Textbook: Writing Empirical Research Reports: A Basic Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • File: Purpose and Example of the Literature Review.pdf
  • Video: Writing the Literature Review (Part One): Step-by-Step Tutorial for Graduate Students

Background Information

Last week, when you began conducting your literature review, you found some pertinent studies that relate to your topic. Now, you are in the final stages of completing your literature review. However, you need to continue to search for additional relevant studies. One trick to help with this process is referred to as the “snowball technique.” As you recall, to be considered an empirical study, it must include a literature review; therefore, all of the studies you located thus far also include a literature review. By using the snowball technique, you can look through the studies you already included in your literature review and assess the relevancy of the literature reviews of those studies. If you find studies that fit your topic, you can search for those studies. As you continue to find relevant studies from the literature reviews of other studies, you can build a thorough and comprehensive literature review by simply looking at what other researchers are saying about the topic. Hence the term snowball! You can continue this process until you are satisfied that you have exhausted the literature related to your topic.

Nine-Step Process of the Snowball Technique

After obtaining all of the relevant studies, you will need to organize the final draft. You can choose from five different approaches to organize your literature review.

One way is to organize the content in chronological order. With this type of review, the studies are identified starting with either the oldest or the most recent article on the topic. For example, if the studies range from 1990 to 2015, the researcher could begin with 1990 and work up to 2015 or begin at 2015 and work backward to 1990.

The thematic approach is another way to organize the content. Here, the researcher does not focus so much on time but more on themes or subtopics related to the literature review. For example, for a study on domestic violence, some pertinent themes could be the cycle of violence, relevant services, or the types of abuse experienced by individuals.

A third approach is advancements. Here the researcher starts with the first breakthrough on the topic and then discusses any advancements within the field. For example, if a researcher is interested in studying the effects of a therapeutic intervention on depression, the review could display a historical progression of the treatments for depression.

The methodological approach is just that: it outlines the specific methods used in studies. This shows the readers what types of studies have been conducted in relation to the topic.

Finally, in the questions approach, you outline the major questions on the topic, then you can discuss them throughout the review. For example, for the researcher interested in identifying alternative programs for students ages 13–16, some questions the researcher might be interested in discussing are:

  • What is an alternative program?
  • For whom are alternative programs most appropriate?
  • What are the purposes of alternative programs?


  1. Review the rubric to make sure you understand the criteria for earning your grade.
  2. Review Chapter 5 in your textbook Practice-Based Research in Social Work.
  3. Review Chapter 6 in your textbook Writing Empirical Research Reports: A Basic Guide for Students of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
  4. Review the video “Writing the Literature Review (Part One): Step-by-Step Tutorial for Graduate Students” at
  5. Review the file Purpose and Example of the Literature Review.pdf.
  6. Go to the databases and find six more research studies that relate to your topic.
  7. Using “Who, When, How, Why, and Four What,” summarize the findings of your studies.
  8. Write the last three pages of the literature review using the thematic approach.
  9. Your paper should align with APA style and include a cover page, in-text citations, and a reference page.

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