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USP 186/187: Senior Sequence : Intro to Lit Reviews

Library resources for the USP Senior Sequence, arranged by Area of Concentration.

Literature Review: An Overview

A literature review provides an overview of the scholarly writings published on a topic by scholars and researchers. A good literature review forms the justification for and drives your own research: it is the platform upon which you will build your argument, place your research in context ("They say") , and demonstrate how your research contributes to the broader discussion ("I say").

Specifically, a literature review:

  • Focuses on a particular question, area of research, theory or issue.
  • Provides an overview of the existing literature and knowledge gaps on a topic and reflects a critical analysis of this research. 
  • Demonstrates that you've read extensively in your field, have a thorough understanding of that field, and are capable of intelligently critiquing others' work.

Getting Started on Your Literature Review

For this class, your literature review must include 15-20 peer reviewed articles and at least 3 books. Edited books are acceptable.

You should all use these three databases to begin your search for peer-reviewed articles:

If necessary, you can supplement these databases with others to round out your research. See the areas of concentration tabs for recommended databases. You can also find database suggestions on specific subject guides or contact Kelly directly.

Peer reviewed articles

  • Written by experts in the field and are reviewed by several other experts before the article is published. The reviewing experts evaluate the quality, accuracy, and validity of the research and the article to ensure it meets the standards of the discipline.
  • Most databases will include an option to limit your search to "peer reviewed" or "scholarly" articles, and this is a good way to help you focus on appropriate articles.
  • If you're unsure as to whether a specific journal or article is peer reviewed, you can search the Ulrichsweb database or contact Kelly for help.

Conducting a Literature Review

1. Define a research question.

Your literature review should be guided by a central research question. The research question should be neither too broad nor too narrow; it may help to start with a broad question and narrow it as you read through initial literature.

2. Decide on the scope of your review.

How comprehensive does it need to be? For example, how many years should it cover? What geographic area?

3.  Determine your search strategies.

Think of keywords and related terms that are relevant to your topic. It will probably help to start broad and then narrow the keywords based on your search results.

Look at different types of information resources and think of how they might relate and contribute to your search. (Note that this guide is intentionally designed with this idea in mind!)

  • The web and subject encyclopedias/handbooks can be useful for getting an initial feel for the topic.
  • Books are good for in-depth research, but may not be as timely as journal articles.
  • Journal articles are especially good for finding current research on a topic. Peer-reviewed journal articles are written by scholars and professionals in the field. 
  • Dissertations can be especially helpful for finding related local research and bibliographies.
  • Government documents are great for primary source material.
  • Newspapers are good for very current and very local information.

Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches. Your database choices will be partially or completely dependent on the subject you're researching. Start with the databases on this guide, then broaden out to others if necessary.  Feel free to contact Kelly if you need suggestions.

4. Conduct your searches and find your literature.

Review the abstracts of research studies carefully, rather than reading the complete articles, to determine relevance. When you read full articles, take notes as you read.

Write down the searches you conduct in each database so that you can duplicate them if necessary.

Be sure to get all the information you will need to cite each source; also keep track of which database each article was found in.

Use the bibliographies and cited references of studies you find to locate additional related studies. 

Keep in mind that research outside your primary focus area may be helpful for providing context.

5. Review the literature. Some guiding questions to keep in mind are:

What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?

Does the research seem to be complete? Can you identify potential problems in how the research was conducted?

How does the research contribute to your understanding of the issue you are researching?

Do various authors come to the same or different conclusions? How are the articles related?

What ideas have not been covered? What are areas ripe for future research?

6. Write your paper.

You may want to sort the materials you have read based on their different themes, theoretical foundations, or conclusions. Then, for each article, describe the research that was done and the conclusions of the authors. Discuss how that particular work contributes to the understanding of the subject that you are working on.

7. Create your bibliography.

Be sure to cite every source mentioned in your literature review - not just the ones you directly quoted.

Do not cite sources that you reviewed but decided against including in your review.

Understand and know how to avoid plagiarism.


Library Catalogs - Search for Books

The UCSD Library's Roger catalog is the first stop for finding books, journals, documents, maps and all other material located physically in the UCSD libraries, as well as online resources purchased for your use.

Bonus search tip: Having trouble finding relevant books using the library catalogs? You can search the full text of many books using Google Books to identify books of possible interest, then do a title search in the library catalogs to find a copy. In most cases, you won't be able to actually read the full text online.

Circuit is a shared library catalog that searches the holdings of all San Diego university libraries and the San Diego County Public Library. If a book you need is already checked out at UCSD, or if or we don't own a book that you need, check in Circuit. If it’s available at another San Diego Circuit library, it can be delivered to UCSD in 1-3 days.

If a book or journal you need isn't available through Roger or Circuit, try the Melvyl catalog. It allows you to search worldwide, or limit your search to UC Libraries. If borrowed from another UC campus, your item should arrive in 3-6 days. From other libraries, books and journals can take up to 3 weeks, so start your research early!

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Ulrichsweb: Find Information about Journals

You can use the Ulrichsweb database to confirm if a journal is peer-reviewed. See the highlighted column below, where the open book icon indicates "refereed" or peer-reviewed.


Citation Help

Need citation help? This How to Cite guide offers information about and links to citation generators, style manuals, and more.

Professor Pezzoli recommends that you use the Turabian, 9th edition, Author-Date style for your literature review.

You can use the free EndNote Web to create and manage your citations.