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The Literature Review: 3. Methods for Searching the Literature

This guide provides an introduction to the conduct and organization of a literature review

1. Tasks Involved in a Literature Review

There are two major tasks involved in a literature review:

  • Identifying and selecting literature
  • Writing about the literature

2. Skills Required for Conducting a Literature Search

  • Information seeking skills
    • Ability to use manual and electronic methods to identify useful resources
    • Ability to conduct extensive bibliographic searches
  • Critical appraisal skills
    • Ability to describe, critique, and relate each source to the topic
    • Ability to identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • Organizational skills
    • Ability to organize the literature collected around your topic
    • Ability to present the review logically

3. Searching Techniques

Scan the literature for various types of content, including:

  • theoretical foundations and definitions
  • discussion and debate
  • current issues

Skim potential works to select materials for inclusion

  • decide whether to include or exclude a work from the review

4. Sorting the Literature

For each article identified for possible inclusion in the literature review, you need to:

1. read the abstract

  • decide whether to read the entire article

2. read the introduction

  • explains why the study is important
  • provides a review and evalution of relevant literature

3. read Methods section critically

  • focus on participants and methodology

4. evaluate results

  • are the conclusions logical?
  • is there evidence of bias?

5. Notetaking

  • Take notes as you read through each paper that you will include in the review
  • Extract key points by comparing and contrasting across studies:
    • Purpose of study - research aims or hypotheses
    • Research design and methodology
    • Data analysis
    • Summary of findings

Part of the task in taking notes is to begin the process of sifting and arranging ideas

6. Questions to Keep in Mind

  • What are the key sources of information on this topic?
  • What are the major issues and debates on this topic?
  • What are the key theories, concepts, and ideas on this topic?
  • What are the main questions and problems that have been addressed so far?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various arguments on the topic?
  • Who are the significant research personalities in this area?