Literary Research - Gathering, Evaluating & Synthesizing Data

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

When conducting literary research you must keep several things in mind: what are you researching, what literature is available, and how much data is enough?

A Quick Definition

Literary research, also known as 'literature review,' is a report on the analysis of other written work within your chosen field. It can be broken down into four distinct steps, including research, gathering data, evaluating data, and finally synthesizing data. Let's look at these steps now!


When you start your research you have to determine first what your question is. This is extremely important because it lays a foundation for accurate research and data gathering. Say you're researching angry feline behaviors: you don't want to solely research cats because this is too broad a topic and will take too long to really gather all the data you need. Secondly, narrow your focus until you're finding primary resources that really hold the information you need. Primary resources are the original sources of the information you're researching, such as an artifact for historical research, instead of someone's opinion on the artifact. Once you've defined your research questions, then you can move forward.

Gathering Data

As you gather the data, you need to make sure that you're choosing primary resources from all different walks of life. Don't just choose books, either! Look at peer reviewed journals, which are academic works that have been reviewed and approved by other experts. Also look at news articles if valid, oral histories, and even papers from previous scholars. This will provide a wide variety of viewpoints making your work more valid.

Also, please do your best to avoid bias! Bias enters your research very easily if you purely focus on your question and opinions and not those of others. Say you believe that world is flat (though I don't know why you would), and that's all you research. If you do that, then your end product is going to be solely one-note and won't have the ability to stand up to scrutiny since the results will be skewed. Gather data that says the opposite of your hypothesis, since this will still be handy when starting to evaluate everything that you've gathered.

Evaluating Data

This is where you start to look through all the resources and documents you have gathered and deciding what's valid and helpful, what's just a repeat of previous works you've already gathered, and what's just fluff and doesn't add to your academic argument. At this point, you can look at the data that may not agree with your hypothesis, see if the information has merit, and perhaps revise your original theory. Otherwise, use these resources to refute those assertions within your work.

This is where an outline can start to help bring your ideas to fruition. Once you have a set outline of your analysis, then it's just working on each section. Think of it as like a to-do list for academics!

Research Outline

Synthesizing Data

Synthesizing means taking all of the information you have read and gathered, and coming up with new ideas and theories from the work. You obviously don't want to repeat what another author or scholar has said. So ask yourself this: what can you add to the academic arguments on this topic? What viewpoint do you bring to the table that is unique? These are important questions as you synthesize your information that you've found.

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