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Literature Review

What is a literature review, what is its purpose, and how to do it.


Tip 1: Taking notes

Taking notes on scraps of paper, without complete and accurate reference to the citation, is a recipe for disaster. Frequently researchers find that despite their best efforts, they have copied a citation incorrectly, or incompletely, and are now unable to locate the source. It is always easier to locate the correct information if you know where you copied it. In some cases (commonly when the reference is from a book chapter), it may not be possible to relocate the reference without this information, and usually not in the time frame required.

It is worthwhile interpreting your notes as you go along, so that they are not merely a transcript of what you have read, but contain an intellectual element.This not only helps with your later writing, but also reduces the danger that you have unknowingly plagiarised another author's work. In writing your dissertation or research report, you need to have linked and integrated any such ideas and concepts with your personal knowledge framework.

You might also want to add notes regarding the usefulness of the reference, or add keywords to represent areas covered which may not be immediately obvious from the title or source (e.g. chemical names, processes, theories, methodologies, relevant chapter in thesis, software etc.).    

Tip 2: Recording authors' names

It is also handy to establish a consistent format for recording names, to prevent the occurrence of several versions of the same name. This is particularly important where there may be more than one entry for the same author (see examples below).

R.F. Samuels
Bob Samuels
Bob F. Samuels
Robert Samuels
Samuels, R.F.
Samuels, Bob etc

A good rule is to include as much information as possible!

Tip 3: Recording search strategies

It can also be useful to record the 'success' of your search strategy (especially when searching electronic databases), so that you can revise your strategy, or return to it at a later stage. Some people annotate their search strategy as they conduct their searches, noting the database used, the date searched, and the number of records retrieved.

Tip 4: Search Histories, RSS Feeds, etc.

In addition to physically taking note of your searches per Tip 3, many databases enable researchers to create an account to record search histories that may be periodically rerun.  You may also subscribe to RSS feeds of a database, catalog, etc. Such services are useful in keeping you up to date with literature in your field. Check the Help screens of various databases to see what types of individual subscription services may help you.

Tip 5: Use Endnote Web, RefWorks, or Another Bibliographic Citation Manager

EndNote Web and RefWorks programs enable researchers to maintain a collection of citations (and links to full text) from databases and catalogs.  They not only serves as a backup for your discovered resources, but will help you generate a formatted bibliography or Works Cited list upon completion of your research project. 

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