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Literature Reviews

This guide defines and explains the literature review process.

Selecting a Topic

One of the most important steps in research is selecting a good research topic.  This page on the Capstone Research Guide will guide you through selecting a topic, writing a thesis statement and/or research questions, selecting keywords and databases for preliminary research. 

Remember: The Goal of Your Literature Review

The goal of the literature review is to provide an analysis of the literature and research already published on your subject. You want to read as much as possible on your topic to gain a foundation of the information which already exists and analyze that information to understand how it all relates. This gives you the opportunity to identify possible gaps in the research or justify your own research in relation to what already exists. 

This page will walk through the steps in: 

  1. Planning your research 
  2. Collecting your research 
  3. Organizing your notes 

Plan out your search

After you have chosen your topic, you will want to make a plan for all of the places you should look for information. This will allow you to organize your search and keep track of information as you find it. In a document, make a list of possible places you might find information on your topic. This list might include: 

  1. Library databases - See section "Finding scholarly journal articles" below
  2. Research facilities - Are there organizations or institutions which publish and share research in your field of study?
  3. Open Access Journals - See section "Open Access Journals" below
  4. University library catalog - See section "Finding books" below
  5. The catalogs of other libraries - See section "Finding books" below

Keep in mind that a literature review necessitates the use of scholarly research. These are peer-reviewed articles written by graduate or post-graduate students, educators, researchers, or professionals in the field. These types of articles wil include standard citations for the works they reference in their research. 

Finding scholarly journal articles

To get a sense of the available research, you may want to start with a multidisciplinary article database such as Academic Search Premier or Business Source Complete (for management and business).  Then, you may want to do a more thorough search in additional specialized sources--see the the link below.

Open Access Resources

When something is published as an open access resource, it is published online and can be accessed for free with few or no copyright restrictions. Most scholarly journal articles require payment for the download of the article. Subscriptions to databases, like what is provided to you through Webster, keep you from having to pay out of pocket for each article you download. Open access resources will allow you to search, download, and cite researchers who have chosen to publish open access without paying for each article. 

Searching through open access resources might be a great option for your research once you have exhausted the databases. Please note that sometimes, an open resource repository can be difficult to search through as often there are fewer ways to limit the search. 

See the link below for information about open access resources and a list of open access resources by discipline. 

Finding books

Don't overlook books when you are surveying the literature. They can prove invaluable in providing historical information and overviews of current research in a topic area.

Why not just use Google Scholar?

Google Scholar can be a useful source for finding journal articles, but there are advantages found in the article databases offered through the Webster U. Library, including:

  • features that let you customize your search
  • access to more full text
  • integration with other library services (e.g. chat, delivery services, etc.).

For more on using Google Scholar to access full-text articles from the Library's collection, visit http://libanswers.webster.edu/faq/121658.

Popular vs Scholarly 

Scholarly articles are sometimes also called "peer-reviewed" because they are evaluated by other scholars or experts in the field.  A scholarly article is commonly longer than a magazine article.

The clearest and most reliable indicator of a scholarly article is the presence of references or citations.

Many of our databases allow you to limit your search to just scholarly articles. This is a useful feature, but it is not 100% accurate in terms of what it includes and what it excludes. You should still check to see if the article has references or citations.

Collect and organize your research 

As you follow through with your plan of identifying places to find your research, you are going to come across articles and books which are useful to your topic. These items will allow you to answer your research question and treat the topic in a way which enlightens your understanding of where the research stands as a whole. 

Because the purpose of the literature review is to analyze the research on the topic and find the relationships between those resources, simply reading the resources and keeping notes of their contents may not be enough to help you see the connections between them. 

Manage your downloads and citations

As you download articles and begin to identify helpful resources, you will need to develop a method of keeping track of this research. No matter the method you choose to use, make sure that: 

  1. Any article you've downloaded is saved in a labeled folder which is easy to access. 
  2. Any citation you have created is saved an accessible.

Using your own method

You can certainly create a system for organizing your downloads, citations, and other electronic notes. Use the file storage system on your computer, or cloud computing software like Google Drive or Dropbox. Create folders specifically for your project and save everything you think you might use. The benefit of managing your research this way is that these options are often free and allow you to have access to materials beyond your time as a student.

Using research management software

A number of software options are available to help you manage the large amount of materials that are typically needed for a literature review. Examples include:

Organizing your notes: Synthesis matrix

Because the purpose of the literature review is to analyze the research on the topic and find the relationships between those resources, simply reading the resources and keeping notes of their contents may not be enough to help you see the connections between them. 

One option is to create a document with a chart used solely for the purpose of comparing the ideas and methods of various scholars and researchers. This is called a synthesis matrix. Before starting a matrix, you may want to identify a couple subtopics or themes to track within the articles you read. Other themes will reveal themselves as you read the literature and can be added to the chart. 

Below, you will find some examples of synthesis matrixes. Use inspiration from any of them to design  your own matrix which works best for your style and ideas. No matter the design of your matrix, some of the items you may want to compare across resources are: 

  • Publishing Date: You may be able to show how an idea has developed over time due to continuous research. 

  • Research Methods: You may want to discuss findings based upon research type. You might ask yourself: How does the method used to collect the data impact the findings of the study? 

  • Themes: Which topics are covered in the article and what does the author believe about that topic?