The research process often begins with a literature review. A review of literature is a systematic summary of books, journal articles, and other sources pertaining to a particular topic.The purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate how your study adds to the existing literature and also to show why your study is needed.
In general, there are five common steps to reviewing the literature and they are…
- Identify key terms
- Locate literature
- Evaluate and select literature to include in your review
- Organize the literature
- Write the literature review
In this post, we will discuss the first two
Identify Key Terms
The purpose of identifying key terms is that they give you words to “google” when you conduct a search. Below are some ways to develop key terms.
- Creating some sort of title, even if it is temporary, and conduct a search based on words in this title is one way to begin.
- If you already have research questions, you can look for important words in these questions to conduct a search.
- Find an article that is studying something similar to you and look at the keywords that they include. Many articles have a list of keywords on the first page that can be used for other studies.
Locating literature is not as difficult as it was years ago thanks to the internet. Now, the search for high-quality sources doesn’t even require the need to leave home. There is some sort of hierarchy in terms of the quality and age of material available and it is as follows. Each example below is rate on a scale of 1-5 for quality and newness the higher the rating the higher the quality and newness of the example
- Websites, newspapers, and blogs Quality 1 Newness 5
- Academic publications such as conference papers, theses, Quality 2 Newness 4
- Peer-reviewed Journal Articles Quality 3 Newness 3
- Books Quality 4 Newness 2
- Summaries like encyclopedias Quality 5 Newness 1
In this example, normally the lower the quality the younger the information is. Keep in mind that there are many exceptions to the example above. Self-published books would obviously have a much lower quality rating while some online sources are of much higher quality because of who is providing the information.
Once you have some keywords it is time to begin the search. Google books is an excellent place to begin. When you get to this website, you type in your key term and Google returns a list of books that contain the key term. You click on the book and it takes you to the page where the term is. This is like holding the book in your hand at the library. You note whatever information you need and go to another book.
For Google scholar, you go to the site and type in your key term. Google Scholar gives you several pages of articles. Before choosing, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
- Depending on your field, you will probably be expected to cite new literature in your review often in the last 5-10 years. To do this you need set a custom range for articles you want to view. Focusing on the last 5-10 actually helps you to focus and gets things done quicker. You only cite older material if it was groundbreaking.
- Google Scholar gives you any article with concern for quality. To protect yourself from citing poor research one strategy is to consider who the publisher was. Below is a few examples of high-quality publishers of academic journals. If the article was published by them it is probably of decent quality.
- Sage, JSTOR, Wiley, Elsevier
This provides some basic information on beginning the process. In a later post, we will go over the last few steps of conducting a literature review.