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    The literature review primer 2014 The literature review primer 2014 Document Transcript

    • The Literature Review Primer CONTENTS  What is a literature review? Definitions.  Link to online film of how to write a lit- review (with quick notes by Alex.)  Alex’s Guide: Finding material for your literature review 1) Choosing your topic 2) Collecting the most relevant (and usually “peer reviewed”) articles and books 3) Using the tools (with worked examples): (a) Subject Reference Books, (b) The Library, National and International Book Catalogues.
    • (c) Databases of Electronic Journal Articles (d) Thesis databases (e) Citation databases (f) Boolean Searching (g) Finding a specific Electronic Journal (h) Setting up alerts (i) Using a Citation Database (j) RefWorks 4) Reading/Skimming the material, using their abstracts, 5) Grouping the material into the themes and sub-themes of your topic, 6) Identifying with sub-themes materials that agree, disagree, and points which are not covered at all. What is a literature review? A quick definition: Literature Review
    • (Social Sciences) A formal, reflective survey of the most significant and relevant works of published and peer-reviewed academic research on a particular topic, summarizing and discussing their findings and methodologies in order to reflect the current state of knowledge in the field and the key questions raised. Literature reviews do not themselves present any previously unpublished research. They may be published as review articles in academic journals or as an element in a thesis or dissertation: in the case of the latter, they serve to situate the current study within the field. Chandler, Daniel, and Rod Munday. "literature review." In A Dictionary of Media and Communication. : Oxford University Press, 2011. http://www.oxfordreference.com/vi ew/10.1093/acref/9780199568758.
    • 001.0001/acref-9780199568758-e- 1550. A much longer and practically-orientated definition: Literature Review Noel A. Card Literature reviews are systematic syntheses of previous work around a particular topic. Nearly all scholars have written literature reviews at some point; such reviews are common requirements for class projects or as part of theses, are often the first section of empirical papers, and are sometimes written to summarize a field of study. Given the increasing amount of literature in many fields, reviews are critical in synthesizing scientific knowledge. Although common and important to science, literature reviews are rarely considered to be held to the same scientific rigor
    • as other aspects of the research process. This entry describes the types of literature reviews and scientific standards for conducting literature reviews. Types of Literature Reviews Although beginning scholars often believe that there is one predefined approach, various types of literature reviews exist. Literature reviews can vary along at least seven dimensions. Focus The focus is the basic unit of information that the reviewer extracts from the literature. Reviews most commonly focus on research outcomes, drawing conclusions of the form of “The research shows X” or “These studies find X whereas other studies find Y.” Although research outcomes are most common, other foci are possible. Some reviews focus on research methods, for example, considering how many studies in a
    • field use longitudinal designs. Literature reviews can also focus on theories, such as what theoretical explanations are commonly used within a field or attempts to integrate multiple theoretical perspectives. Finally, literature reviews can focus on typical practices within a field, for instance, on what sort of interventions are used in clinical literature or on the type of data analyses conducted within an area of empirical research. Goals Common goals include integrating literature by drawing generalizations (e.g., concluding the strength of an effect from several studies), resolving conflicts (e.g., why an effect is found in some studies but not others), or drawing links across separate fields (e.g., demonstrating that two lines of research are investigating a common phenomenon). Another goal of a literature review might be to identify central issues, such as unresolved
    • questions or next steps for future research. Finally, some reviews have the goal of criticism; although this goal might sound unsavory, it is important for scientific fields to be evaluated critically and have shortcomings noted. Perspective Literature reviews also vary in terms of perspective, with some attempting to represent the literature neutrally and others arguing for a position. Although few reviews fall entirely on one end of this dimension or the other, it is useful for readers to consider this perspective when evaluating a review and for writers to consider their own perspective. Coverage Coverage refers to the amount of literature on which the review is based. At one extreme of this dimension is exhaustive coverage, which uses all available literature. A similar approach is the exhaustive review with selective
    • citation, in which the reviewer uses all available literature to draw conclusions but cites only a sample of this literature when writing the review. Moving along this dimension, a review can be representative, such that the reviewer bases conclusions on and cites a subset of the existing literature believed to be similar to the larger body of work. Finally, at the far end of this continuum is the literature review of most central works. Organization The most common organization is conceptual, in which the reviewer organizes literature around specific sets of findings or questions. However, historic organizations are also useful, in that they provide a perspective on how knowledge or practices have changes across time. Methodological organizations, in which findings are arranged according to methodological aspects of the reviewed studies, are
    • also a possible method of organizing literature reviews. Method of Synthesis Literature reviews also vary in terms of how conclusions are drawn, with the endpoints of this continuum being qualitative versus quantitative. Qualitative reviews, which are also called narrative reviews, are those in which reviewers draw conclusions based on their subjective evaluation of the literature. Vote counting methods, which might be considered intermediate on the qualitative versus quantitative dimension, involve tallying the number of studies that find a particular effect and basing conclusions on this tally. Quantitative reviews, which are sometimes also called meta-analyses, involve assigning numbers to the results of studies (representing an effect size) and then performing statistical analyses of these results to draw conclusions.
    • Audience Literature reviews written to support an empirical study are often read by specialized scholars in one's own field. In contrast, many stand-alone reviews are read by those outside one's own field, so it is important that these are accessible to scholars from other fields. Reviews can also serve as a valuable resource for practitioners in one's field (e.g., psychotherapists and teachers) as well as policy makers and the general public, so it is useful if reviews are written in a manner accessible to educated laypersons. In short, the reviewer must consider the likely audiences of the review and adjust the level of specificity and technical detail accordingly. All of these seven dimensions are important considerations when preparing a literature review. As might be expected, many reviews will have multiple levels of these dimensions (e.g., multiple goals directed toward
    • multiple audiences). Tendencies exist for co-occurrence among dimensions; for example, quantitative reviews typically focus on research outcomes, cover the literature exhaustively, and are directed toward specialized scholars. At the same time, consideration of these dimensions suggests the wide range of possibilities available in preparing literature reviews. Scientific Standards for Literature Reviews Given the importance of literature reviews, it is important to follow scientific standards in preparing these reviews. Just as empirical research follows certain practices to ensure validity, we can consider how various decisions impact the quality of conclusions drawn in a literature review. This section follows Harris Cooper's organization by describing considerations at five stages of the literature review process.
    • Problem Formulation As in any scientific endeavor, the first stage of a literature review is to formulate a problem. Here, the central considerations involve the questions that the reviewer wishes to answer, the constructs of interest, and the population about which conclusions are drawn. A literature review can only answer questions about which prior work exists. For instance, to make conclusions of causality, the reviewer will need to rely on experimental (or perhaps longitudinal) studies; concurrent naturalistic studies would not provide answers to this question. Defining the constructs of interest poses two potential complications: The existing literature might use different terms for the same construct, or the existing literature might use similar terms to describe different constructs. The reviewer, therefore, needs to define clearly the constructs of interest when
    • planning the review. Similarly, the reviewer must consider which samples will be included in the literature review, for instance, deciding whether studies of unique populations (e.g., prison, psychiatric settings) should be included within the review. The advantages of a broad approach (in terms of constructs and samples) are that the conclusions of the review will be more generalizable and might allow for the identification of important differences among studies, but the advantages of a narrow approach are that the literature will likely be more consistent and the quantity of literature that must be reviewed is smaller. Literature Retrieval When obtaining literature relevant for the review, it is useful to conceptualize the literature included as a sample drawn from a population of all possible works. This conceptualization highlights the importance of obtaining an unbiased sample of literature for
    • the review. If the literature reviewed is not exhaustive, or at least representative, of the extant research, then the conclusions drawn might be biased. One common threat to all literature reviews is publication bias, or the file drawer problem. This threat is that studies that fail to find significant effects (or that find counterintuitive effects) are less likely to be published and, therefore, are less likely to be included in the review. Reviewers should attempt to obtain unpublished studies, which will either counter this threat or at least allow the reviewer to evaluate the magnitude of this bias (e.g., comparing effects from published vs. unpublished studies). Another threat is that reviewers typically must rely on literature written in a language they know (e.g., English); this excludes literature written in other languages and therefore might exclude most studies conducted in other countries. Although it would be impractical for the reviewer
    • to learn every language in which relevant literature might be written, the reviewer should be aware of this limitation and how it impacts the literature on which the review is based. To ensure transparency of a literature review, the reviewer should report means by which potentially relevant literature was searched and obtained. Inclusion Criteria Deciding which works should inform the review involves reading the literature obtained and drawing conclusions regarding relevance. Obvious reasons to exclude works include the investigation of constructs or samples that are irrelevant to the review (e.g., studies involving animals when one is interested in human behavior) or that do not provide information relevant to the review (e.g., treating the construct of interest only as a covariate). Less obvious decisions need to be made with works that involve questionable quality or
    • methodological features different from other studies. Including such works might improve the generalizability of the review on the one hand, but it might contaminate the literature basis or distract focus on the other hand. Decisions at this stage will typically involve refining the problem formulation stage of the review. Interpretation The most time-consuming and difficult stage is analyzing and interpreting the literature. As mentioned, several approaches to drawing conclusions exist. Qualitative approaches involve the reviewer performing some form of internal synthesis; as such, they are prone to reviewer subjectivity. At the same time, qualitative approaches are the only option when reviewing nonempirical literature (e.g., theoretical propositions), and the simplicity of qualitative decision making is adequate for many purposes. A more rigorous approach is
    • the vote-counting methods, in which the reviewer tallies studies into different categories (e.g., significant versus nonsignificant results) and bases decisions on either the preponderance of evidence (informal vote counting) or statistical procedures (comparing the number of studies finding significant results with that expected by chance). Although vote-counting methods reduce subjectivity relative to qualitative approaches, they are limited in that the conclusions reached involve only whether there is an effect (rather than the magnitude of the effect). The best way to draw conclusions from empirical literature is through quantitative, or meta-analytic, approaches. Here, the reviewer codes effect sizes for the studies then applies statistical procedures to evaluate the presence, magnitude, and sources of differences of these effects across studies.
    • Presentation Although presentation formats are highly disciplinary specific (and therefore, the best way to learn how to present reviews is to read reviews in one's area), a few guidelines are universal. First, the reviewer should be transparent about the review process. Just as empirical works are expected to present sufficient details for replication, a literature review should provide sufficient detail for another scholar to find the same literature, include the same works, and draw the same conclusions. Second, it is critical that the written report answers the original questions that motivated the review or at least describes why such answers cannot be reached and what future work is needed to provide these answers. A third guideline is to avoid study-by-study listing. A good review synthesizes—not merely lists—the literature (it is useful to consider that a phonebook contains a lot of
    • information, but is not very informative, or interesting, to read). Reviewers should avoid “Author A found … Author B found …” writing. Effective presentation is critical in ensuring that the review has an impact on one's field. Card, N 2010, ‘Literature Review’, in Neil J. Salkind (ed.), SAGE Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 726-9, viewed 28 June 2013, doi: 10.4135/9781412961288.n222. This last definition was found on the Sage Research Methods Online database by searching for “literature reviews’” – there are plenty more to be found there – some general, some usefully subject-specific:
    • Online Film Presentation Presented by an academic rather than a librarian, and available at: http://vimeo.com/37318843
    • I took a few quick notes from this one while watching it:
    • Lit review primarily requires getting a grasp and background on the field, making a framework for your own research. An interdisciplinary is like two separate lit reviews – how one goes about weaving together two separate stories. (Alex conclusion – focus would/could be on similarities and differences in the stories.) How organise lit and impose order on it - in this film six drafts of (the same) lit review were examined, with particular emphasis on stance and language and development of a more certain narrative and expert voice through the drafts, from what was originally an very uncertain-sounding listing of research papers - the title of title of presentation is “telling a research story”. The lit. review should tell a story. (Alex notes – presenter is against simple chronological listing – true – but story often implies some chronology –
    • beginning, middle, end, future possibilities - narrative animal that we are. The Hegelian dialectic progressions of academic argument, traced through the literature – thesis, antithesis, synthesis, new thesis…. etc. corresponds to the beginning, middle, end, future possibilities of narrative.) QUALITY FIRST, NOT QUANTITY. Should one critically evaluate each piece? (Alex note, means in the written review – obviously one does evaluate each piece mentally.) In early drafts examined in the presentation, the writer spent too much space on articles that were not v. important. This not only wastes space but can cause one to drift away from the point – a Lit Review should make a POINT. Not just he said, she said, but also a root of argument/point to shape it. (Alex note - “A peg to hang the story on” as journalists phrase it. Often a sort of yes or no question can serve as this
    • peg.) Any good story has to have a point – a point implies not just a description about the lit, but your views on it – how well, if at all, it answers a question. Presenter points out that different disciplines have different approaches to reviews – hard sciences, engineering, humanities, but maintains that even in very “factual” reviews – the authors of the literature have a stance, obvious or not. (Alex note – not always evident in some subject areas, but it is likely that, while one might not start out with a stance, one tends to develop one in response to reading the literature and weighing it up.) Narrative structure is not always chronological though, other aspects of arrangement might be to criticise the methodologies or themes in the lit or group things together by their methods, assumptions, themes coverage.
    • The presenter advises also that one starts out with material and findings that are not controversial and from these moves into areas that are controversial, where there are debates, thesis, antithesis – you would then find a synthesis or pick a side. YOUR BIG AIM IS TO FIND A GAP IN THE LITERATURE …. Typical phrases in your lit review that signal this might be things like, “Much has been done in this area/ topic, however, no studies have examined …..” You might also identify a need for a reanalysis and reconceptualization of past views in the literature, applying a new theory or research technique. The question of the presenter; what is your new contribution to the field? What do you add to the story of the literature so far…. Setting limits to the literature review: potentially it is never ending – there is always, potentially one more piece you can include, or a new tangent or a new
    • direction, that one paper leads on to another to suggest. YOUR REAL PURPOSE IN THE LIT REVIEW IS TO SAY THAT THERE IS A GAP TO BE FILLED OR A DEBATE TO BE LAUNCHED OR SUPPORTED OR COUNTERED. (Alex takeaway- point here, once you find the gap, and can demonstrate it, you can stop.) The presenter advises that a literature review should include a section explaining what you did, and why and justifying your decision not to include materials – because they were outdated, peripheral, much the same as before, vey derivative…. EXPLAIN WHAT YOU ARE NOT DOING AND WHY. (Alex takeaway points – anticipate, and cover yourself against, questions about why you didn’t do such and such.) Be very clear about your decision to examine some sources or use some finding aids in particular and not others
    • – e.g. particular newspapers and not others….. The presenter, pragmatically, points out that the examiner (“reviewer” in USA parlance) as well as the supervisor (“advisor” in USA parlance) will expect to see their own papers in the review is they have written on the subject. It is vital to be aware that your readers will have expectations of the literature review – anticipate and meet the expectations, (Alex note - or explain and justify why you are not.) How far back should you go? Depends – it is a judgement call - but presenter warns against just including recent material (and Alex concurs very strongly –there are tides and seasons in the history of any literature, a subject might have been very hot some years ago, but not recently – if you are reviving it you might have to go back to when it was hot. Alex also notes that a good subject
    • encyclopaedia can often give a clear, and brief articulation of the history of academic debate on a subject, listing the key works that shaped that history.) So, how far back should you go? Go back as far as you need to go to tell a good story about the development of the thought and literature on your topic. Should you use evaluative language in your review, such as “novel” or “interesting” or “important”….? The presenter says that some evaluative language can help put your to put your stamp on the literature – articulating what you really think. Not just what you found. FOR THE PRESENTER, THIS SIGNALS YOUR TRANSITION FROM BEING A USER OF INFORMATION TO BEING A CREATOR OF KNOWLEDGE – ALL NEW FROM YOUR OWN HEAD – VIA YOUR
    • APPLICATION OF KNOWLEDGE, JUDGEMENT AND REASONING. Presenter then explores the various ways of arranging your lit. review. Presenter acknowledges the value of a bit of chronology, but says it should not be your main strategy – (Alex places a bit more emphasis on chronology actually, since it is good for outlining the history of the field and articulating the swings of THE ARGUMENT over time – the debate. However, Alex understands that the presenter here is criticising the technique of predominantly listing material as it comes, without specifically making a debate-story out of it.) Presenter suggests different ways of arranging the information, and, indeed, of looking at it in the first place - maybe look at field of study from a particular disciplinary perspective (Alex’s example – Perspective on Early Years Education from standpoint
    • of anthropology or psychology or sociology- we are in interdisciplinary age after all), or arrange the literature by positive, neutral, and negative perspectives on the topic, or by country/culture of origin, or by methodology – quantitative, qualitative, theoretical basis, sample sizes or sample location – if your point is that these make a difference to the outcomes of the studies, e.g. studies that focus on urban versus rural dwellers, or rich versus poor, or, age groups, or educational level. The presenter notes that this is really up to your imagination. (Alex notes – however you arrange it, you are demonstrating your perception of PATTERNS IN THE LITERATURE – for example, identifying the shaping views of different disciplines – which your arrangement demonstrates.) The presenter emphasises that the purpose of a literature review (for a university student) is in part to
    • demonstrate a clear grasp of the development and dynamics of the literature and of the field. (Alex notes again the value of subject encyclopedias in providing an overview of the field, as can existing bibliographies or literature reviews - can also include words “Literature review” or “review article” or “review paper” in your database searches to benefit from previous syntheses of the literature – more on this below.) The presenter emphasises the importance of focus – you must pick information for inclusion that addresses your Yes or No question… your judgement is based on whether it is relevant or irrelevant TO YOUR TOPIC. In evaluating individual material, the presenter points out the value of abstracts in helping one categorise a lot of stuff quickly, also subject headings in papers, that are clues to the gist of that section. Also advises to
    • look specifically for seminal papers (more on this below) or top journals. Presenter advises to look for existing review literature in a discipline – adding that you can type “Review paper” and subject field on your search engine (actually, just says “on Google Scholar” – librarian grinds teeth audibly.) Also follow major authors who cite because they or agree or disagree with a key seminal article (more on citation searching below – though must acknowledge that Google Scholar has a very good “cited by” link below each hit.) The presenter advises identifying and reading the key journals – where the seminal articles and cutting edge arguments happen. (Alex note – often very helpful to mention and outline a clash of views conducted in the pages of a major journal - for example in Science Fiction the debate between Postmodernists and Humanists in the journal Science Fiction Studies a real
    • humdinger of a clash conducted in a major journal in that field.) The presenter again emphasises that chronology can come into this, but only if it is tracing an argument/battle over time. In other words THERE MUST BE A POINT TO THE CHRONOLOGY. The presenter refers to the traditional and, by implication, boring, boring pattern of dissertations as that of IMRD = Introduction, Methodology, Results, Discussion/Conclusion. She suggests that many variants on this can be used - (though Alex cautions here on the advantage of the tradition in giving your examiner/supervisor what they expect to see, and may ask tricky questions about not seeing.) The presenter stresses the importance of writing like a person in your field – use the verbs common to descriptions of literature in your fields – “suggests” “argues’ “examines” - write like you BELONG in the field. Maybe your field
    • avoids terms like “demonstrates” – therefore avoid these terms too. Writing style can also be an important aide in grouping authors together rather than listing them individually: You don’t have to keep saying that Smith argues and Jones argues… You can say rather that “A number of UK writers have argued that XXXX (Refs to Smith 2009, Heston 2009, Wales 2008, Jones….) By contrast, a predominantly American, approach has been to argue that XXXXX…. (Refs to Haines 2009 , Parsons 2010, Blake 2011….) Another example might be not writing that “Jones investigated….” But instead saying that “In recent years there has been growing interest in …..(REFS to x, y, z ,w)” Presenter advises that as arguments get a lot closer to current debates, you can start signalling this by writing “argues that” instead of “argued that.”
    • In terms of storytelling, the presenter notes that in telling a story, we add our stories on to previous stories and take them further, up to date – and speculate about their ending… For the presenter, increased readability and more varied sentence structure are the symptoms of a good story developing, as opposed to just a list of facts and papers. The presenter notes that a literature review should also identify areas of uncertainty, areas that should be treated with caution, or are problematic, or still developing. The ability to identify these areas makes it clear that you really are an authority on the literature and topic. Signs of this development can be seen in your language, which is – in later drafts of the review - becoming evaluative, and more certain, detectable through the use of phrases such as “an innovative approach to the study….” or “the emerging trend”, or, “narrowly focussed” or “polemical”,
    • or “There is a growing debate…” or “A small but widely distributed body of research has recently emerged in the United States….”SHOWS THAT THERE IS A THINKING, EVALUATING, PERSON BEHIND THE REVIEW – ONE WHO HAS KNOWLEDGE OF THE FIELD AND CAN EXERCISE JUDGEMENT - ONE WHO IS NOT JUST REPEATING FACTS, BUT ACTUALLY HAS SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THE LITERATURE. THE PRESENTER STRESSES THAT YOU MUST SOUND AS THOUGH YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF THE LITERATURE, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. The presenter reiterates the importance of language use and arguments conveyed through language – how does one develop this language? By learning from the patterns and habits of expression common in the literature and reviews
    • of your discipline. You will develop a preference for certain accepted patterns of expression and phrase and tone in your discipline – thus developing your own style – but it will still be an acceptable style within the conventions of your discipline. (Alex notes here that a great guide to developing appropriate language is gained by paying attention to your supervisor’s critique of the language and expressions you use – these critiques are not just a matter of your supervisor’s personal taste, but judgement gained from regular exposure to writing in that discipline.) The presenter’s last main point is on the importance of telling your reader what you doing and what you are going to do next – for example, telling your reader that you will address this topic in the next section. The presenter describes this as “Metadiscourse.”
    • Metadiscourse tells your reader how your argument is mapped. It outlines what you are doing, and puts signposts throughout, so that the reader knows where they are – and what to expect in each section. Alex’s Guide But my focus, as a librarian, is mainly on how to find the material to review: So Here Is My Lit. Review Survival guide – together with Librarianly Tips and Tools (and I still think it is probably the most useful one of its type you’ll find.) A literature review is: 1) A list of books and journal articles,
    • 2) on a specific topic, 3) grouped by theme, 4) and evaluated with regard to your research. This evaluation would identify connections, contradictions and gaps in the literature you have found. The purpose of a literature review, therefore, is: 1) To get a feel for the agreed academic opinion on the subject (the connections). 2) To discover the disagreements on the subject (the contradictions). 3) To find opportunities, (the gaps), for developing and expressing your own opinions. The classic pattern of academic arguments is Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis An Idea (Thesis) is proposed, an opposing Idea (Antithesis) is proposed, and a revised
    • Idea incorporating (Synthesis) the opposing Idea is arrived at. This revised idea sometimes sparks another opposing idea, another synthesis, and so on… If you can show this pattern at work in your literature review, and, above all, if you can suggest a new synthesis of two opposing views, or demolish one of the opposing views, then you are almost certainly on the right track. Steps in compiling a literature review are: 1) Select a specific topic (the more focussed, the better, or you’ll go on for ever). 2) Collect the most relevant (usually “peer reviewed”) books and articles. 3) Read/skim them, using the abstract (a short summary attached to the article). 4) Group the articles into the sub-themes of your topic. 5) Identify within each sub-theme those points on which the articles agree, those points on which they disagree, and those points which they don’t cover at all.
    • 7) Choosing your topic Seek advice from a lecturer or tutor on this, if a topic is not already assigned. It is very common for students to bite off more than they can chew, simply because they have not realised the full breadth and complexity of an apparently simple topic. It is usually better to cover a tiny topic perfectly, than a huge topic superficially. Look for a topic on which there is polarised opinion. It often helps to pick one in which a question is being asked, for example: Is a particular taxation policy beneficial or disadvantageous to a developing country? When authors disagree, this provides an opportunity for you to enter the debate and argue for one side or another in your essay. Taking a hatchet to someone’s opinions: (a) gives you something to write about, (b) affords a certain amount of brutal fun,
    • (c) is the foundation of most modern scholarly writing (cf. points (a) and (b) above). 8) Collecting the most relevant (and usually “peer reviewed”) articles and books The main tools for finding these books and articles are (a) Subject Reference Books, (b) the Library Book Catalogue, and then the National Book Catalogue and then, perhaps, International Book Catalogues. (c) the Library Databases of Electronic Journal Articles, which usually include abstracts to Theses and to Chapters in Books, d) Thesis databases – Local and National. Searching out OPTs (Other People’s Theses) can give you warning on whether your work has already been done, and can give you a good guide to ideas for lit reviews and layout and topics to take further, and the recent ones in particular are often a good guide to cutting
    • edge work and trends in scholarship – think young PhD’s anxious to make a name for themselves by breaking new ground. Also, the thesis may have some unique data, stemming from first-hand research on the ground, and unavailable anywhere else, and on those grounds at least, may be well worth including in a literature review. e) Citation databases – for following the literature forward; i.e. finding people who have used or agreed with or disagreed with a particular core article. Before you search these tools, spend a minute thinking about the best terms to use. Make a list of alternative words that describe your subject, and also think about general terms and more specific terms. As you search, more terms will suggest themselves, often from the subject terms assigned to the records you find by keyword searching. Keep a running note of these for use in other catalogues. This is important because while journal databases are good for finding very specific terms in articles, book catalogues, in
    • local, national and international libraries, tend to use more general terms and do not search within the full text of the book. Subject Encyclopedias can often suggest a set of search terms appropriate to that topic – or define a term as it is used in that area of specialization. A lot of our searching success or failure will revolve around our choice of search terms – so we need all the help we can get in picking them – especially if you are doing interdisciplinary research. Words like paternal or maternal as used in Anthropology have a lot more to do with a very specific focus on kin-structures and bloodlines, than on mothering or fathering behaviours, for example, as they might in Sociology or Psychology. It is important to be aware of this if you are a Sociologist thinking of using those terms in an Anthropology-related search…. They may not mean what you think they mean, and so your searches will bring up useless hits, which ever database you try them on. So – whatever your level of expertise, I’d recommend starting off a lit. review by using
    • Subject Encyclopedias for a map of the territory Subject Encylopedias I’m not talking about the Britannica here, or Wikipedia, though both can be very useful in fact, even at University, when it comes to getting a bird’s eye map of the territory of your research. I’m talking about thousands of genuinely specialized reference works – all narrowly focused and with each section written by an expert in that field.
    • An entry in a good subject encyclopedia can give a background history of research trends (i.e. the history of academic thought on that subject), as well as outlining likely issues for current and future research (as in the example below). Example: If you want to get a quick understanding of “African legal systems”, , you will find a short discussion alphabetically on pages 229-232 of International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences / editors-in-chief, Neil J. Smelser, Paul B. Baltes. (Amsterdam : Elsevier, 2001.) Vol. 1 The 4-page article is broken up into helpful headings:  Opening Definition  Customary and Religious (Non-state) Legal Systems  State Legal Systems  Past and Present Trends in Legal Development
    •  Current and Future Issues in Legal Development, Theory and Research  Cross-references to other articles in the encyclopedia  A Bibliography of 13 major sources The article is signed and you can check the author’s affiliation –University of Birmingham. And the articles are overseen by section editors and editors in chief, also with affiliations listed. Above all, a good subject encyclopedia entry will have a short bibliography which usually lists the seminal works, or at least most commonly sought works, on that subject. Indeed, some exist to do nothing but this task:
    • BookData Description: This volume is the first to aim at summarizing all of the scientific literature published so far regarding male-female differences and similarities, not only in behavior, but also in basic biology, physiology, health, perceptions, emotions, and attitudes. In this title, results from over 18,000 studies have been condensed into more than 1,900 tables, with each table pertaining to a specific possible sex difference. Even
    • research pertaining to how men and women are perceived (stereotyped) as being different is covered. Throughout this book's eleven years in preparation, no exclusions were made in terms of subject areas, cultures, time periods, or even species. The book is accompanied by a CD containing all 18,000+ references cited in the book. "Sex Differences" is a monumental resource for any researcher, student, or professional who requires an assessment of the weight of evidence that currently exists regarding any sex difference of interest. At any rate – references from works like these can form the core of a research bibliography – the past sources which you can’t not read if you want to be taken seriously. They can also be a very useful starting point in a citation search. We’ll come to a citation search later, but in essence it involves finding a really key article or book and seeing who has cited it more recently – either because their research supports it, or disagrees with it,
    • or takes it forward by adding a new dimension to it. It might also be a good idea to do a search for any other/more recent books or articles by one of these key authors, or by the writer of that section in the encyclopedia – experts tend to write a number of other books or articles on their topic of expertise, and, if contemporary writers, may still be at it. Note also that this article has been written in 2001 – so it gives a good background of the scholarship to that date, and leaves you at a point from which you can take it further in your own review. How to find subject encyclopedias? Ask Us. We can usually find good ones for particular topics. Or search for things like “Encyclopedia and violence” on the catalogue. Searching the Library Catalogue
    • Start by typing in the main, simple keywords that describe your subject, separated by ANDs – Gender AND Poverty AND Africa, for example, or Violence AND Television. Avoid typing in a phrase like Television violence – that will call up only those books which use exactly that phrase (possibly very few, or none whatsoever). The results list might be quite wide- ranging. If you get too many results, or they don’t seem very relevant, try adding another word – Violence AND Television AND Children, for example.
    • (Note, btw, that a useful-looking subject encyclopaedia has come up in this search.) If you find a book that looks promising (Kirsh, Children, adolescents, and media violence, for example) you can open the full record and see what formal subject terms the librarians have assigned to that record, and search again using those formal terms, to get a more focused list of books just like the Kirsh one.
    • Using simple keyword searching (in the “all fields” box) rather than restricting the catalogue search to just author, title or subject fields allows you to search the entire record – title, author, subject, and table of contents, if one is attached. This allows you to find things you would definitely have missed if searching only in the title or subject headings, and is especially useful for more recent records which often have the tables of contents attached to them, as in the example above. This gives the book catalogue some of the advantages of a journal database, where the keyword search searches the abstracts of the articles as well as the title and assigned subject headings. If you find a good subject heading on the catalogue, and clicking on it brings up too limited a selection of hits, try using some of the subject heading words in a keyword search – this gives you the best of both worlds; everything with that subject heading will come up, as well as everything which mentions that subject term in the title or table of contents.
    • Searching our book catalogue will also bring up theses on that topic written at UCT, though there are better ways of finding theses, which I’ll get to in a minute. If you are looking for a list of UCT theses in a particular subject, the best search is Thesis and Anthropology, or Thesis and Education, btw. So - if you find a good book reference, scroll down to the bottom of the reference and you will find the subject terms the library cataloguers have assigned to it. Click on that term to call up more books just like the one you have found, or paste it into a keyword search. Once you have the thing in your hand, quickly check the relevance by glancing at the table of contents, the introduction and any descriptive blurbs on the back cover. The index at the back of the book not only helps you dive to very narrow topics in the book, but also gives you an indication of how much attention (i.e. how many pages) the book spends on that specific topic. If you are satisfied with the book, look at the bibliography in the back – this can help
    • identify other relevant sources. Following a chain of references in a bibliography like this, whether in a book or a journal article, is one of the most basic techniques of scholarship – find something that is relevant and look at the sources it used. Often our journal databases will have reviews of that book – these are particularly useful since a good reviewer will usually try to contextualise the book in terms of the existing literature which it reinforces or challenges. So, any promising book titles you find can also be profitably typed into the journal databases. Searching National and International Book Catalogues The other thing to watch out for in catalogues generally, but national and international catalogues particularly, is the difference between USA and British standard spelling; words like labour/labor, behaviour/behavior or colour/color, can radically effect your search results. Use wildcards for these (* or ?)
    • Also, be especially careful about differences in terminology between American and Standard British English. Not just spelling – but actual terminology - American business databases tend to use “corn” where we would use “maize”, for example. There are also social taboos which vary from country to country - terms for race, poverty, or social class, in particular, can vary wildly, not only from database to database but also between journals of different national origins or different disciplines within a database. Right, back to our searches…. Searching the National Catalogue Having done a search on UCT catalogue, it is a good idea to repeat it on the National Catalogue, SACAT, found under S on our databases list: You can get to our A-Z database list by mousing over Search & Find on the library web page:
    • This covers the holdings of all the major libraries, including university and major research institution libraries in South Africa. You will pick up titles of books, reports, papers, theses, etc. which UCT does not have, but which can usually be obtained by inter-library loans, at no cost. Again, I find keyword searches are usually most effective since they can pick up words in title and other areas of the record – though because the national catalogue does not often give detailed contents for its book records, your keyword searches will be a bit less comprehensive than they would be on the UCT catalogue. For this reason, although the National catalogue will show material that is in UCT library amongst its findings, it is best to search our own catalogue separately – the search on our interface can be simultaneously more comprehensive and more precise.
    • Also, our catalogue gives our specific shelf numbers. Also, it works slightly differently with regard to finding phrases: If you search the UCT catalogue for Poverty and South Africa and Gender , our catalogue will treat South Africa as a phrase. The SA Catalogue, on the other hand, will treat South and Africa as separate words, unless they are put in inverted commas. At any rate, searching for Poverty and “South Africa” and Gender on the National Catalogue brought up 152 hits (below.) The same search on UCT catalogue (minus the inverted commas) brought up 34.
    • Searching WorldCat Found under W on our Database list and does what it says on the can – searches internationally across library catalogues. Here is the blurb: WorldCat - via OCLC FirstSearch The world's most comprehensive bibliography, with more than 44 million bibliographic records covering books, manuscripts, computer data files, maps, computer programs, musical scores, films and slides, newspapers, journals, sound recordings, magazines, and videotapes. Provides holdings information for South African libraries. So pretty much what the SA Cat does for South Africa, only MUCH BIGGER since it includes a lot of other countries (not all, but still very many.) A search of this for Poverty and “South Africa” and Gender - you’ll note that it also requires inverted commas around phrases - brought up 531 results. I’m glad to see that we have
    • some at UCT, but if we don’t have a book that your need, and it is not available in SA, then let me know and I would think about trying to buy it rather than doing an interlibrary loan from overseas.
    • With so many hits it might be an idea to try to use the limiting functions on this database:
    • Limiting by year, or range of years (e.g. 2000- 2012) is often helpful, as is limiting by Number of Libraries – on the (occasionally justified) assumption that a really good book will be held by a fair number of libraries.
    • Incidentally – the formal subject headings used on UCT, the National Catalogue and International Catalogues are assigned by subject cataloguers all using the same rule book, so the same subject headings should work the same way across all catalogues, and in a really big international catalogue, some ruthless refinement by formal subject heading is often necessary. Searching for Theses Having got a sense of what books have been published, or what is available in print in South Africa, it is now time to see if there is a gap in the research industry for your own interests, and to see what is being written at the cutting edge of unpublished research. It is useful to see what similar work has been done on your topic – you can use a thesis’s references and bibliography as a starting point and take the research further, or explore a different angle. Often the thesis itself will
    • constitute a body of material that is available nowhere else – results from an individual’s primary research in a local town or suburb, for example. Most importantly, searching them allows you to check that your exact thesis has not been, or is not at this moment being, written at a university down the road. Of course, there may often be some overlap of interests – plenty of people might be working in or close to your area, and the fact that others like you are writing on this is evidence that you are taking part in a hot debate or being part of the cutting edge on this topic – adding your own unique perspective and study and methodology. So finding similar-ish work is not automatically a train smash. But you do not want to discover, just before, or just after, handing in, that exactly your uniquely South African, cutting edge, thesis has been written a
    • couple years earlier. This happens to people, and it would be soul-destroying to find that you have spent a year or two repeating somebody else’s work; even worse if it were to lead to suspicion of plagiarism. If a Master's or Doctoral thesis was done at UCT, you will find it on the catalogue the same way you would a book – look for the author’s last name or words from the title or both. You can also do a very quick and dirty search for theses by subject on the UCT catalogue, just type Psychology and thesis, for example. If it was done at another South African university we can get a copy through Inter- library loan or, increasingly, simply download it for free from that university’s web site. This is sometimes possible for overseas theses too, but most likely we would have to buy a copy. This can often be done, but the thesis might take some time to arrive.
    • Finding South African Theses South African Theses, in full text, can be found on: National ETD Portal South Africa: South African theses and Dissertations “This site is run by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) in collaboration with the Committee of Higher Education Librarians of South Africa (CHELSA).It provides access to the full text of many thousands of doctoral PHD and some other dissertations produced in South African universities. These cover the full range of science, social science and humanities topics. There is some coverage from as early as the 1970s although there are larger numbers of post 2009 records. Search by keyword or browse.” However – this site lists only those theses which have been digitized in full text: On the plus side – there are a lot of them, and they can go back quite a long way due to retrospective scanning.
    • A Search for Child Psychology AND Poverty brought up 85 hits, though some of them were a bit broad – it does not seem to take the phrase “Child Psychology”... I suspect, in fact, that it is regarding the two words as separated by an OR – and so bringing up results for child and poverty as well as psychology and poverty ….
    • Whereas a search for Child AND Psychology AND Poverty, which should, in theory, broaden the search from “Child Psychology”, in fact shrunk it, bringing up 24 hits – thus I suspect that it only now includes all three words:
    • Nevertheless – it is a very useful database, if one is prepared to play around with alternative terms. An alternative index, going back right to the earliest theses, though not with full text, can be found on the Nexus database from the National Research Foundation, on our A-Z database list. Nexus Database System Provided by the National Research Foundation, Nexus includes databases of: Current and Completed Research Projects in the Humanities and Social Sciences; Professional Associations; Forthcoming Conferences; Periodicals’ Submission Requirements; Research Organisations; Research Networking; Research Methodology Courses; and Women in Research. The database of Current and Completed Research Projects requires a password – please contact the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library on 021 650 3703/4 or the Law Library on 021 650 2708/9.
    • Actually, theses are also indexed on the Union Catalogue of Theses and Dissertations (UCTD) and on the Africa Wide Database, but Nexus is more up to date, covers current as well as completed research, and gives better abstracts. On the downside, it is a bit clumsier to search – it does not take Boolean operators very well other than AND. I usually search both Nexus and UCTD for this reason. Nexus: Click on the Current and Completed Research Projects Database:
    • I find it is best to do a simple keyword search in the Titles, subjects, abstracts field:
    • A search for child psychology and poverty brought up 29 theses (A search for child and psychology and poverty brought up the same, btw):
    • Selected items can be displayed on a separate list:
    • And viewed with their abstracts by changing the “short report” option to “full report”
    • Any South African thesis not at UCT can be ordered by inter-library loan. Quite a lot of the most recent ones are available on the web nowadays too, so putting the title into a Google search can often be rewarding. Any thesis at UCT can be found on the book catalogue and borrowed from level five (rows of blue volumes near the lift in the Research Wing.) Increasingly they are digitized – the UCT catalogue record will have a hotlink to the full text if this is the case. Union Catalogue of Theses and dissertations Again, available under U on the Databases A- Z list. Union Catalogue of Theses and Dissertations (UCTD) - via Sabinet Online Bibliographic records of theses and dissertations at Master and Doctorate level submitted to universities in SA since 1918. Updated annually. Interestingly, a search for Child psychology and poverty (With or without inverted
    • commas around “Child psychology” brought up only 1 result, unlike the 29 on Nexus. This is because the Nexus search also picks up keywords in the abstracts, and the UCTD search does not, simply because it doesn’t have those abstracts.
    • However, clicking on the record opens up a list of the subject headings associated with each record, which can be helpful:
    • Using these terms brings up three more hits, but still, nothing like the Nexus results. However – I have on occasion found that UCTD brings up a hit which an identical search on Nexus doesn’t…. So you really do have to search them both to be sure. It is also a good idea to search a third source… a wider-ranging database, Africa- Wide Information- via EBSCOhost, which holds records of theses as well as book chapters and journal articles, and is also very helpful in bringing up SA theses. International Theses For international theses, a good tool is ProQuest Dissertations and Theses - A&I Blurb goes: With more than 2 million entries, PQD&T is the single, central, authoritative resource for information about doctoral dissertations and master's theses. Dissertations published from 1980 forward include 350- word abstracts written by the
    • author. Master's theses published from 1988 forward include 150-word abstracts. Titles available as native or image PDF formats include free twenty-four page previews. UMI offers over 1.8 million titles for purchase in microform, paper or electronic formats. With big abstracts, this database offers the same keyword searching flexibility as Nexus. Another source for international theses is WorldCat Dissertations and Theses This database provides access to the dissertations and theses available in OCLC member libraries. With no, or few, abstracts, this database suffers the same problems as UCTD. As with its sibling databases, you will get different results for “Child psychology” and poverty, with or without inverted commas. However, it does link to theses which are available free on the web – often the only practical way to get hold of foreign theses without paying for a pricey inter-library loan or having them bought for the library.
    • Some of our other databases, particularly Humanities International, SocIndex (for general social sciences), MLA for literature, EconLit for economics, and PsycInfo for psychology, provide abstracts of theses along with abstracts of books and journal articles. You will often encounter a reference to a relevant thesis when searching for journal articles or book chapters on these databases. Interestingly – people who have written a thesis, particularly a Doctorate, on a particular topic often go on to publish articles on the same topic, so if you find a good thesis, it might be worth searching the journal databases for the writer’s name to see if they have continued to write on that theme. Journal databases The library subscribes to about 180 databases – containing journal articles, but also references to book chapters, theses, government documents, and miscellaneous research papers.
    • WorldCat Local is an interface which lies over our catalogue and many (though not all!) of our 180 or so databases. It allows you to cross search them together with the catalogue. Or rather it will allow you to do this when we have it set up – we don’t at the moment.
    • The snag is that WorldCat Local is designed as a one-stop-shop for undergraduates. It is good for quick searches for full text, But it is not well suited to complex searches. For complex searches it is better to go to our databases directly, than to rely on the WorldCat Local mask across them. It is still possible to cross-search many of our databases that if they share the same platform (i.e. database provider.) To do this, select “Databases by Platform” under the SEARCH & FIND tab:
    • Select, as a first choice (in the Humanities), the EBSCO set of databases since the Ebsco platform provides some of our main subject databases for disciplines such as Psychology, Sociology, Literature, Economics, Film & Media, Religion and African Studies - as well as two good general databases – Academic Search Premier and Humanities International Complete.
    • Nice, tight, better set of results. Not always full text on the MLA in particular – but use SFX link to see if it is full text on any of our other databases.
    • They do not, alas, share the same indexing protocols, which are often database-specific, but, coming from the same platform, they do respond identically to nice, detailed, Boolean searching: In other words, you can do: (SU Caribbean or SU Afric*) and (postcolon* or decolon*) and (writing or literat* or novel or fiction) and theor*
    • A quick digression on BOOLEAN SEARCHING Consider this search string: (SU Caribbean or SU Afric*) and (postcolon* or decolon*) and (writing or literat* or novel or fiction) and theor* The AND operator narrows a search – all listed elements must be mentioned in each article. The OR operator expands a search – any of the listed elements must be mentioned in each article. The OR operator is useful for dealing with alternative terms which different authors might use when writing on a similar topic. The Brackets tie the options to the required material. In this example they make sure that any articles we get on literature or fiction are concerned with the Caribbean or Africa. If we didn’t have brackets here the
    • search would just bring up every reference to literature in the database, whether relevant to the With Caribbean or Africa or not. The Wildcard * expands a search: The * deals with related words. In this example theor* = theory, theories, theorists, theoretical…. The ? fills in a missing letter, and is used for covering alternative spellings in British and American English. (Labo?r and behavio?r are notorious traps, for example, and the presence or absence of a “u” in the word can radically affect your hit rate.) NOT weeds out anything you’ve got too much of. (I might have put NOT India*) into this search, for example. SU is an example of command-language searching – it restricts the words Caribbean or Afric* to the subject field of the record only – in other words SU makes sure that these are the major focus of the article, not just mentioned in passing.
    • Other command-language searching tags that are occasionally useful are “TI” for Title and “AU” for Author. Right, back to databases and journals…. Finding a specific Electronic Journal The library subscribes to +- 80 000 electronic journal titles in full text. The databases are used for finding journal articles by subject. If you are looking for a specific article, in a specific journal title, you can go click on the E-Journals tab on the library homepage. Type in the journal title on the search screen….
    • …. which calls up a link to the electronic journal on whichever of our databases hosts it. You can either search that journal for the title of an article, or by keywords, or simply drill down through each issue until you find the specific article that you wanted.
    • This is handy both for looking for a particular article – a reference you are following up – but also for reading in its entirety, issue by issue, or for simply keeping tabs on, a particular journal that is key to your area of research. You can also set up alerts on most electronic journals – you’ll get the table of contents e- mailed to you whenever a new issue of that journal comes out, or you can set up an RSS feed to Google Reader to achieve the same effect. Use the Alert/Save/Share link on the Ebsco databases, or something similar on others:
    • You can set it up to e-mail you with new articles:
    • If you use the search option to search that journal for articles on a particular topic, you can set up an alert for new articles that match that topic only:
    • So – that saves you from missing any up-to- the minute material that you would like to include in your review (or research in general.) Right – that’s the finding done. Or rather, it isn’t – because we’ve still got to cover citation searching: Using a Citation Database Citation Databases are used for following the influence of a particular author or article forwards – seeing who has cited that work. Once upon a time Citation databases were very specialized beasts, in fact they were printed indexes well before they became electronic. The ISI Citation database, for example, is a direct descendant of these indexes. It is found under the ISI web of Science database, under I on our Databases list. Click on Cited Reference Search:
    • Input the author’s name and the official abbreviation of the work cited as indicated. There is a list of the abbreviations.
    • You will then get a list of citing articles. From the list of citing articles you can see
    • which articles have cited them in turn – and so on down the chain:
    • I used to demonstrate the ISI database in some detail – but I don’t do that so much nowadays because the ISI database now has competition – which is good because the ISI database only shows citing articles from those journals which are on its own (admittedly quite big) database. It misses others, and does not do books or book chapters. Other databases like the EBSCO databases now have a similar function – and in fact are a bit more user friendly:
    • In fact you don’t even have to use this search interface – simply searching for the article normally brings up a times-cited-in- this-database link:
    • But one of the most effective challengers by far is Google Scholar. You don’t even have to do a specialized citation search on this. Just search for the article and a link to the citing articles comes up too.
    • On Google Scholar there are 45 links to citing articles, on ISI there were 7, on Academic Search Premier there was 1. Btw - you’ll notice that Google Scholar brings up a full text link to our database holdings on this search – it only does this when searched on campus or through the off campus UCT login.) There is also a more sophisticated way of getting the citation searches out of Google Scholar – a tool called Harzing’s Publish or Perish can be downloaded to your desktop (just Google the term) and strip mines Google Scholar very efficiently indeed.
    • According to the blurb on this page: Publish or Perish is a software program that retrieves and analyzes academic citations. It uses Google Scholar to obtain the raw citations, then analyzes these and presents the following statistics:  Total number of papers  Total number of citations  Average number of citations per paper  Average number of citations per author  Average number of papers per author  Average number of citations per year  Hirsch's h-index and related parameters  Egghe's g-index  The contemporary h-index  The age-weighted citation rate  Two variations of individual h-indices  An analysis of the number of authors per paper. The results are available on-screen and can also be copied to the Windows clipboard (for pasting into other applications) or saved to a variety of output formats (for future reference or further analysis). Publish or Perish includes a detailed help file with
    • search tips and additional information about the citation metrics. Er… Right. This is evolution…… But for a quick and dirty citation search you are probably better off with a straight Google Scholar search and a click on the cited-by link. At any rate - it is becoming clear that there is a lot of material out there and that you are going to be generating some monster reference lists. To keep track of them, and to generate a pain-free bibliography it helps to know about…. RefWorks RefWorks is a database on which you can open a personal account. You can save your references to RefWorks, either by typing them
    • in, or by exporting them directly from our databases, as we have done here. You can find RefWorks on the Library Homepage under the Research Help menu.
    • Once you have opened an account on RefWorks and added some citations to it, you can download a program called Write-N-Cite:
    • Write-N-Cite will exist as an icon on the desktop of the PC on which you do your writing, and will also attach itself to your Word program, under Add-Ins:
    • When you open Write-N-Cite, you will be able to search through your saved references (over time you’ll find that it really helps if you organize them into topic-specific folders, btw.) and cite as you type. You can them click on the Bibliography tab and generate in-text citations and bibliography in any one of a number of styles:
    • Viz: My Paper Blether Blether Blether Blurgle, blether drone (Clukey 437), drone, drone (Brown 568) Works Cited Brown, J. D. "Textual Entanglement: Jean Rhys's Critical Discourse.(Critical Essay)." Modern Fiction Studies 56.3: 568. . Clukey, Amy. ""no Country really Now": Modernist Cosmopolitanisms and Jean Rhys's Quartet.( Critical Essay)." Twentieth Century Literature 56.4: 437
    • And so done – all that remains is to 3) Read/Skim the articles, using their abstracts Most of the articles will have an abstract. This is a short paragraph at the head of the article that lists the main facts and arguments in each article. By reading these you will quickly get the gist of what each article is about and where it fits into the pattern you are building up in your literature survey. How many books and articles should you have? It’s wise to check this with your lecturer or tutor. In general, though, your aim is not to cover every single book or article, but every major opinion or theme on the topic. Many of the books or articles will add very little that is new. Therefore a short list of really scholarly, relevant, comprehensive articles is often more effective than a list of hundreds of superficial or tangential articles. What you are ideally looking for are the “seminal” articles (seed articles) on which
    • most of the other authors are basing their work. 4) Group the Articles into the themes and sub-themes of your topic Obviously, it helps to have a structure in mind already, but the articles you find will often help to suggest a structure or cause you to redesign your existing one. Herewith a hard-learned tip: There are tides and seasons in academic publishing – a topic is often hot for a few months, then dies, then is revived to be attacked from a different angle, then dies, then is revived again to be discussed from a third angle… remember, Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis? This has two implications for studying the results on a database search:  Just because there is nothing much in the recent articles does not mean that it was not hot a few months or years ago, so scroll back in time down the list, or jump
    • right to the earliest reference and scroll up through time to look for a hot spot.  The tides of article titles often tell a story that can help you shape your literature review. For example, in a list of journal articles on Information Technology and Employment you might find that:  The earliest articles are all about how hard it is to find skilled IT workers.  Later you get articles about UK and US firms desperately recruiting school-leavers and training them in IT skills on the job.  A year later you get articles about how countries like India and South Africa are doing the same thing.  And not long after that you get articles about India and South Africa having a huge, skilled IT workforce, working far more cheaply than the US and UK workforce, and lots of UK and US projects being outsourced to them.  Then you get complaints about unemployment in the IT sector in the UK and USA.
    •  Then you get stories about how employers in the UK and USA have become very choosy about whom they employ, insisting on really good academic training, loads of experience and very-specialised skills.  Then you get the latest stories which are all about how new IT entrants, without that experience, start packing their bags to gain experience elsewhere… See? Story! Many database lists of academic articles tell this sort of story when they are looked at in date order. Either they reflect swings in world events or they are reflecting swings in academic debate and opinion. In fact, book catalogues can do this too, when the results are viewed in date order. Seeing such a story in the literature is a great help in structuring any literature review. In particular, look out for the major triggers of such changes: When did the first swing to a new track happen, and what event or book or article provoked it?
    • When you find an article that has provoked a major swing, or started a whole new debate, then you are looking at the “Seminal” (Seed) article that I mentioned earlier. This sort of article is often the best sort of article to identify in a literature review – many of the other articles will just build on, comment on, or attack its basic arguments. 5) Identify within each sub-theme those points on which the articles agree, those points on which they disagree, and those points which they don’t cover at all. The abstracts can help with this, of course. The main trick is coming up with, or spotting, the sub themes and that is simply a matter of brain work. But if it is done well, and you have taken the trouble to find good sources, then you will find, quite magically, that you have constructed the skeleton and a good bit of the flesh and blood not only of the literature review, but of your research project itself. In fact, a good literature review can result in a research project that virtually writes itself.
    • Alex D’Angelo, UCT Libraries, 2014 Alexander.DAngelo@uct.ac.za