Doing the (systematic) literature review

Course information

Number of sessions: 3
Hours per session: 3 or 1
Course fee:

  • free for PhD candidates of the Graduate School
  • €400,- for non-members
  • consult our enrolment policy for more information


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

In the academic year 2021-2022 this course will take place online.

Session 1
May 10 (Tuesday) 2022

Session 2
May 17 (Tuesday) 2022

Session 3
Session 3 is an optional meeting. It will be planned on request and initiative of the participants, when they have a first (part of the) draft of their literature review ready and like to discuss it with the lecturer. 

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 major 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:
    Selecting and reading a literature field
    • Why doing a literature review?
    • Traditional vs systematic review
    • Searching and selecting literature, and the use of digital methods for exploring and mapping the literature
    • Different reading strategies
    • Monitoring your progress through the literature matrix
  • Session 2:
    Macro-analysis and presentation of the findings
    • Macro-analysing your material, and identifying and discussing gaps and flaws
    • Different strategies for presenting the literature, and the pros and cons of each strategy, based on real examples
      Each participant will be asked to develop a plan for the literature selection, a reading schedule, and a structure for their review. In session 2 we will discuss the outcomes.
  • Session 3:
    • Bilateral meeting with the instructor for feedback on a first draft of the literature review or a specific part of the review, such as its method section.


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.