Doing the systematic literature review

Course information

ECTS: 1,5
Number of sessions: 2
Hours per session: 3
Course fee:

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • € 300,- for non-members
  • consult our enrolment policy for more information


Telephone: +31 (0)10 4082607 (Graduate School)

In the academic year 2023-2024 this course will take place online.

Session 1
May 7 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Session 2
May 14 (Tuesday) 2024
Online (Teams)

Enrolment available from December.

Aims and working method

This course provides guidance for the full literature review process. Participants are trained in searching and selecting relevant literature, applying different reading strategies, assessing the selected literature, and presenting the findings. We will focus on the systematic way of reviewing literature.

This is an introductory course designed for PhD candidates who are in the early stages of their PhD trajectory (first year) and are (almost) beginning to work on the literature review of their thesis. However, the course can also be useful for people who want to learn more about doing literature reviews more generally (i.e. not specifically for a PhD thesis).

The first two sessions of the course are class meetings with lectures, discussions and exercises. In addition, students are offered an opportunity to meet the instructor bilaterally to discuss a first draft of their literature review or a specific part of the review, such as its method section.

Please note that there is a slight overlap between this course and two other workshops. In session 1 of this course we will briefly discuss how to search for literature in the scientific databases and how to use the program VOSviewer. These issues will be discussed more extensively in the workshops Searching and managing your literature and Visual exploration of scientific literature with VOSviewer respectively.

Learning objectives

After the course, participants will know how to:

  • Search and select relevant literature in a systematic way;
  • investigate the selected literature in a systematic way, and
  • to present the results efficiently and clearly.

Session descriptions

  • Session 1: Review approaches; finding and reading the relevant literature
    • Why do a literature review?
    • The narrative vs the systematic literature review
    • Searching and selecting relevant literature
    • Using bibliometric software to explore a literature field
    • Different strategies for reading and assessing the selected literature
    • Administering findings about reviewed publications with a literature matrix
  • Session 2: Synthesis; the write-up
    • How to synthesize findings about individual publications
    • Identifying and discussing gaps and flaws in the reviewed literature
    • Strategies and directions for presenting the literature review
    • Participants will be asked to develop: a) a plan for their literature selection; b) a reading schedule; c) a plan for the structure of their literature review. We will discuss these assignments in session 2.
  • Session 3: Feedback
    • Participants can meet the instructor bilaterally for feedback on a first draft of their literature review or a specific part of their review.


PhD information skills

The Erasmus University Library has developed several e-learning modules on, among other subjects, doing a literature review. These modules consist of short videos, activating exercises and explanatory texts. The e-modules are complementary to our existing courses on information skills:

More information on the e-modules PhD information skills

About the instructors

Dr. Fadi Hirzalla is the Graduate School Senior Lecturer and methodology consultant. He specialises in quantitative and qualitative methods and methodology, next to his substantive interests in citizenship and new media, with a particular focus on intercultural relations and young people. Prior to joining the Graduate School, he worked at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University.