Skip to Main Content

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

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

Getting Started on Your Literature Review

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

All of you must 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. If you need to explore further, see the databases on the main USP guide or review other subject guides for suggestions. You're also welcome to contact Kelly if you need help identifying potential databases.

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.

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.


Class Presentation Slides

Conducting a Literature Review: an overview

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 the main USP library guide is designed with this concept 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 and policy 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 the main USP library guide, then broaden out to those in your area of concentration and/or databases for relevant disciplines. 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.