4 Conducting a Literature Review

At this point you have (1) generated a personal codebook reflecting variables of interest to you from your data set; and (2) selected an association that you would like to test. You are now ready to conduct a literature review using primary source journal articles (i.e., those reporting original research findings).

The video below describes the nature and content of primary source journal articles. It highlights the importance of conducting a literature review before initiating a research project.

Video: 03. Literature Review

You should start your search using key words based on the two topics you have selected (note: search for their presence in the title of articles). You can then narrow your search as necessary based on the amount of relevant literature that you find. Although some libraries have extensive paper collections of journals, you should focus on articles available online. Secondary source literature including review articles and theoretical papers should be used only for needed background on a topic.

It is important to identify and review primary sources either through your on-line search or by using the reference list from primary or secondary sources.

It may also be useful to limit your search to journal articles published in the past 5 years.

Note that as you read the literature, there should be an exchange between your research question and what you are learning. The literature review may cause you to add to the complexity of your research question, further focus that question, or even abandon the question for another.

Literature Review

During your literature review, you should:

  1. Identify primary source articles that address the association that you have decided to examine

  2. Download relevant articles.

  3. Read the articles that seem to test the association most directly.

  4. Identify replicated and equivocal findings in order to generate a more focused question that may add to the literature. Give special attention to the “future research” sections of the articles that you read

  5. Based on the literature, select additional questions/items/ variables that may help you to understand the association of interest. In doing so, further refine your research question. Add relevant documentation (i.e., code book pages) to your personal codebook.


Given the association that I have decided to examine, I use such keywords as nicotine dependence, tobacco dependence, and smoking. After reading through several titles and abstracts, I notice that there has been relatively little attention in the research literature to the association between smoking exposure and nicotine dependence. I expand a bit to include other substance use that provides relevant background as well.


Caraballo, R. S., Novak, S. P., & Asman, K. (2009). Linking quantity and frequency profiles of cigarette smoking to the presence of nicotine dependence symptoms among adolescent smokers: Findings from the 2004 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 11(1), 49-57.

Chen, K., Kandel, D.,(2002). Relationship between extent of cocaine use and dependence among adolescents and adults in the United States. Drug & Alcohol Dependence. 68, 65-85.

Chen, K., Kandel, D. B., Davies, M. (1997). Relationships between frequency and quantity of marijuana use and last year proxy dependence among adolescents and adults in the United States. Drug & Alcohol Dependence. 46, 53-67.

Decker, L., He, J. P., Kalaydjian, A., Swendsen, J., Degenhardt, L., Glantz, M., Merikangas, K. (2008). The importance of timing of transitions for risk of regular smoking and nicotine dependence. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 36(1), 87-92.

Decker, L. C., Donny, E., Tiffany, S., Colby, S. M., Perrine, N., Clayton, R. R., & Network, T. (2007). The association between cigarette smoking and DSM- IV nicotine dependence among first year college students. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 86(2-3), 106-114.

Lessov-Schlaggar, C. N., Hops, H., Brigham, J., Hudmon, K. S., Andrews, J. A., Tildesley, E., . . . Swan, G. E. (2008). Adolescent smoking trajectories and nicotine dependence. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 10(2), 341-351.

Riggs, N. R., Chou, C. P., Li, C. Y., & Pentz, M. A. (2007). Adolescent to emerging adulthood smoking trajectories: When do smoking trajectories diverge, and do they predict early adulthood nicotine dependence? Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 9(11), 1147-1154.

Van De Ven, M. O. M., Greenwood, P. A., Engels, R., Olsson, C. A., & Patton, G. C. (2010). Patterns of adolescent smoking and later nicotine dependence in young adults: A 10-year prospective study. Public Health, 124(2), 65-70.

Based on my reading of the above articles as well as others, I have noted a few common and interesting themes:

  1. While it is true that smoking exposure is a necessary requirement for nicotine dependence, frequency and quantity of smoking are markedly imperfect indices for determining an individual’s probability of exhibiting nicotine dependence (this is true for other drugs as well).

  2. The association may differ based on ethnicity, age, and gender (although there is little work on this).

  3. One of the most potent risk factors consistently implicated in the etiology of smoking behavior and nicotine dependence is depression I have decided to further focus my question by examining whether the association between nicotine dependence and depression differs based on how much a person smokes. I am wondering if at low levels of smoking compared to high levels, nicotine dependence is more common among individuals with major depression than those without major depression.

I add relevant depression questions/items/variables to my personal codebook as well as several demographic measures (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) and any other variables I may wish to consider.

Citation Assignment:

Describe the association that you have decided to examine and key words you found helpful in your search. List at least 5 of the more appropriate references that you have found and read (you must use Mendeley or Zotero). Describe findings and interesting themes that you have uncovered and list a tentative research question or two that you hope to pursue. Be brief and use bullets to cover these details. The example above is a model for this assignment. See the course website for additional examples of the Citation Assignment done in R Markdown.