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Writing Workshop: The Literature Review: Setting a Broad Scope

Setting a broad scope

Your literature review gives your readers an understanding of the evolution and current state of scholarly research on your topic. In your literature review you will survey the scholarly landscape and provide a synthesis of the issues, trends, and concepts.

This means that you will design the scope of your literature review to be broader than your specific research question. For example, imagine that a student has developed this dissertation research question:

many books and a laptop


To support the research question above, the literature view could include (but not be limited to)

  • Theories of working memory, including comparing an contrasting multiple theories
  • Specific aspects of working memory such as visual-spacial and executive function
  • Working memory and child development
  • Working memory and social skills
  • Methods for assessing working memory in children
  • Autism spectrum disorders in children
  • Diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders
  • Theories of social competence
  • Neurological research in autism and social competence
  • Theories of mind and cognitive development 


The student would also likely explore sub-topics of many of the bullet points above. They key is that the student would not only look for articles with the same tight focus as their own research question. Instead they would identify the many facets of their research question and in turn look for literature on each of those facets.


This is a strategy that you can employ to design a comprehensive literature review. Facets to consider including in your literaure review include:

  • The variables in your study
  • The social problem or social conditions
  • Your study population
  • Theory or conceptual frameworks
  • Methods for assessing or measuring variables in your study

Identifying facets of your research topic is the first step to developing search terms or keywords for your library searches. Continue to the lesson on search strategies to learn more.