If you are new to conducting research:
Consider reviewing the Starting Your Research tutorial to learn the phases and processes of doing research.
For general library information: New to Using the Library
Please review this video: Getting Started with Literature Reviews tutorial
What is a literature review?
A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information.
How is a literature review different from an academic research paper?
The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper will contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.
How do I know when I can stop?
Literature reviews can be tricky because you don't want to stop before you've found everything relevant to your topic. There are a couple of guidelines for knowing when to stop looking for materials.
Characteristics of a Good Literature Review
Characteristics of a Poor Literature Review
Synthesizes available research
Basically an annotated bibliography
Critical evaluation of sources
Analysis confined to describing the work
Appropriated breadth and depth
Narrow and Shallow
Clear and concise
Confusing and Longwinded
Uses rigorous and consistent methods
A focused way to find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles about topics in your area of interest, is to search the databases for that subject. We own lots of things online, but for the things we do not own online, make sure to place a request for that item through Resource Sharing (ILL).
See the boxes below and the "Research by Discipline" tab for database suggestions or go to our full database list.
If you want to find articles on a particular topic or by a particular author, you should use an indexed database. An index is a collection of article citations organized by subject matter. Indexes are compiled by human indexers, who actually read or review each article and then select the subjects covered by the article from a list of established subject descriptors. That is, they use a “controlled vocabulary” such as the Library Search uses the Library of Congress subject headings or descriptors for indexing the subjects of articles.
Examples of indexed databases include: Academic Search Premier (or any EBSCO database), Web of Science, and ABI/Inform (or any ProQuest database).
Kind-of like searching Google, full-text databases can be tricky to search and you can end up with thousands of results, many of which aren't relevant to your topic. Since they may not be indexed (like the Indexed Databases above), they don't have a common language. This means you need to think about synonyms for your search terms. For example, if you are searching for "Children," and not finding relevant information, try related terms such as "juvenile," "adolescent," etc...
Examples of full-text databases include: JSTOR, and Nexis Uni
EXAMPLES OF INDEXED DATABASES TO SEARCH FOR SCHOLARLY ARTICLES
Whether conducting research in the social sciences, humanities (especially history), arts, or natural sciences, the ability to distinguish between primary and secondary source material is essential. Basically, this distinction illustrates the degree to which the author of a piece is removed from the actual event being described, informing the reader as to whether the author is reporting impressions first hand (or is first to record these immediately following an event), or conveying the experiences and opinions of others—that is, second hand.
2. Primary sources
These are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question. These original documents (i.e., they are not about another document or account) are often diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other such unpublished works. They may also include published pieces such as newspaper or magazine articles (as long as they are written soon after the fact and not as historical accounts), photographs, audio or video recordings, research reports in the natural or social sciences, or original literary or theatrical works.
3. Secondary sources
The function of these is to interpret primary sources, and so can be described as at least one step removed from the event or phenomenon under review. Secondary source materials, then, interpret, assign value to, conjecture upon, and draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources. These are usually in the form of published works such as journal articles or books, but may include radio or television documentaries, or conference proceedings.
4. Defining questions
When evaluating primary or secondary sources, the following questions might be asked to help ascertain the nature and value of material being considered:
Ultimately, all source materials of whatever type must be assessed critically and even the most scrupulous and thorough work is viewed through the eyes of the writer/interpreter. This must be taken into account when one is attempting to arrive at the 'truth' of an event.
Use the Library Search on the Library's Homepage to find books.
Finding Papers: use
SSRN (Social Science Research Network)
SSRN is a searchable online library that enables authors to post their papers and abstracts easily and free of charge. The vast majority of papers can be downloaded free of charge as well. The only exceptions are papers whose copyright is held by third parties that request a download fee. SSRN provides a space for a variety of content types to be accessed beyond the traditional research article, including gray literature, book reviews, multimedia files, and datasets.
ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) ICPSR maintains and provides access to a vast archive of social science data for research and instruction (over 14,000 discrete studies/surveys with more than 65,000 datasets). Since 1963, ICPSR has offered training in quantitative methods to facilitate effective data use.
**Definition of a scholarly or "peer-reviewed article"
Scholarly journals are also called academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed journals. Strictly speaking, peer-reviewed (also called refereed) journals refer only to those scholarly journals that submit articles to several other scholars, experts, or academics (peers) in the field for review and comment. These reviewers must agree that the article represents properly conducted original research or writing before it can be published.
Scholarly journal articles often have an abstract, a descriptive summary of the article contents, before the main text of the article.
Scholarly journals generally have a sober, serious look. They often contain many graphs and charts but few glossy pages or exciting pictures.
Scholarly journals always cite their sources in the form of footnotes or bibliographies. These bibliographies are generally lengthy and cite other scholarly writings.
Articles are written by a scholar in the field or by someone who has done research in the field. The affiliations of the authors are listed, usually at the bottom of the first page or at the end of the article--universities, research institutions, think tanks, and the like.
The language of scholarly journals is that of the discipline covered. It assumes some technical background on the part of the reader.
The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on original research or experimentation in order to make such information available to the rest of the scholarly world.
Many scholarly journals, though by no means all, are published by a specific professional organization.
For every assignment, and every research question, there is a different set of parameters for determing if information and sources are appropriate and useful.
Consider this statement: There is no such thing as an objectively good or bad source. There are only sources that are good or bad for YOUR research.
There are many different criteria that you need to consider in evaluating if information should be included in your research, or not. You can find a few guiding questions below.
Still not sure if your source is appropriate for your assignment? Reach out to your professor or your course librarians.