As part of our department Ph.D. research methodology course, I'm going to give a short online lecture on how to review the literature effectively. As the course organizer asked us to focus on our own research experience, the focus of the talk is on OR-related studies (and logistics and SCM in particular). Also, the lecture is not targeted towards the proposal writing stage, but the whole Ph.D. research stages.

Personally, I try to answer the following questions when reviewing the literature for a new project:

  • What is the research gap (based on the academic literature as well as the practitioner literature)?
  • What are the most relevant studies to answer the research problem (and similar problems)?
  • What is the best mathematical formulation for the basic version of the problem (in terms of the number of variables and constraint, LP relaxation quality, handling complex constraints, performance, etc.)?
  • What is the state-of-the-art regarding the solution methods?
  • Is there any problem instance widely used by the researchers? If yes, from where can I obtain them? If no, how are the random problem instances generated?
  • What are the most important case studies on the research problem?

Are there any other questions that could be added to the list? I would also appreciate your own experience, tips, or any useful resource on the subject (either general or OR-related) and how to answer each question.


2 Answers 2


Not a question, but switching to a reference management software has helped me a lot (Mendeley, in my case, but there are alternatives). In particular, the ability to tag papers with my own keywords, filter them based on my tags, and then sort them chronologically has helped me quickly get a better idea of the progress in specific areas of research. E.g. I can select all of my papers which have the tags “VRP” and “dynamic programming” together.

Also, it might be worth checking researchers’ websites (or arXiv/OO/SSRN) for preprints if they do a lot of work in the area of interest, since Google Scholar sometimes takes a little while to update. I’ve found a couple of relevant papers this way.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I agree. In particular, checking online preprint repositories is great for staying ahead (or not staying behind, to be more precise). $\endgroup$
    – Ehsan
    Apr 6, 2020 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ Have been in research for 33 years.. Yes, some good research gets published in journals several years after the technical report.. And some good research NEVER gets published in journals -- they remain as technical reports and get high citations -- since they are already well-known and easily available, NO need for journal publication, I guess. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2022 at 20:39

The way I discover literature is to identify the key authors & papers in the field I'm interested in. From there on it's just a matter of following the citation trail. The influential authors/papers tend to be better written as well, which really helps when people are starting up.


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