Interior Design Research Methods

This guide will take you through the process of creating a literature review for your research methods course in Visual & Built Environments.

What is a literature review?

When defining a literature review, it's helpful to think of a scholarly topic as a narrative, a story. All scholarly research on the topic will fall somewhere within this narrative, with established research providing the framework and new research filling in the details or adding new chapters. Your job, in developing a literature review, is to tell the story of your topic.

Literature reviews come in different flavors. Most scholarly articles will contain a literature review section, which puts the author's research in the context of the existing literature--it tells what questions about the topic have already been explored, what has been found, identifies gaps and sets the stage for the question that (s)he is about to explore. Sometimes this section is labeled "Literature Review," other times it may appear in an Introduction section, and sometimes it can be completely unlabeled. Some scholarly works are entirely literature reviews--you'll sometimes hear the terms "systematic" review or "critical" review. These works strive to report a complete overview of the research performed on a topic, including ALL relevant findings as well as any theoretical frameworks that have been developed as a result of the research.

Examples include:

Tips for developing a good literature review

  • Find an entry point in the literature and employ citation chasing. Can you locate two or three existing research articles that address your topic? Look to see what literature they are highlighting in their lit review and use that as a foundation on which you build. Did they identify a seminal work? Are there specific researchers whose work is mentioned in multiple articles? Have these articles been cited? Here's a short video explaining strategies for going about building your search based on a single article:
  • Identify articles that have a broad impact. As stated above, you'll probably find that some articles appear again and again in literature reviews on your topic. However, there are also tools available in library databases that will help you to identify the impact or reach of an article. The short video below introduces altmetrics, one such tool, and how it can help with your research.
  • Look for patterns. As you read resources, try to identify patterns that can help you later with the organization of your document.
  • Stay organized. Take detailed notes. Avoid plagiarism by attributing quotes in your notes. Keep track of your resources using a system that you'll understand when you go to write.

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Bill Marino
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