The literature review helps place your research in the context of what has already been done in the field. The literature review is a component of most scholarly writing. Dissertations include a chapter-long literature review, and research articles will include a literature review near the beginning of the article. Sometimes an entire article will be devoted to reviewing the literature.
The literature review focuses on primary, peer-reviewed resources. Often starting with the seminal literature of the field, it mostly consists of research articles on the topic. Secondary sources are used sparingly, if at all.
In order to write a comprehensive literature review, you must search in multiple databases. No single source will have all of the primary resources you should consult. A comprehensive literature review should include searches in the following:
Credits for this tutorial: About this Tutorial [PDF].
A literature review, especially for a Dissertation, will encompass a large number of resources. There are many locations to search, and dozens of articles and books to read and evaluate. Managing of all this research can be daunting. You will need to remember your various search strategies, compile your bibliography, and organize the concepts you find in your research.
There are a variety of tools you can use to help you keep track of what you find:
RefWorks can help you collect, manage, and store all of the citation information for the resources you find. Once you have your citation information organized in RefWorks, it will also help you create a bibliography or reference list for your project.
To create a RefWorks account, go to the Capella Library Home page and click the RefWorks link.
Want to learn more about RefWorks? Click the tutorial on the right Basic RefWorks: Start Saving Time. The library also has a variety of RefWorks help available on the RefWorks page, including other guides, tutorials, and webinars.
When researching for your literature review, you will need to do multiple searches in a variety of databases, catalogs and web tools. This results in different search strategies using many combinations of keywords. Keeping track of the searches you have already done will help you:
For smaller projects you may want to simply jot down successful keyword combinations. For a larger project, such as a Dissertation, you will want to keep a more formal record of what you have done. The Database Research Log is a table you can fill in as you go along. Click here to download a copy of the Database Research Log [pdf].
One of the most daunting parts of the literature review is analyzing the dozens of resources you have found. You may spend months or more reading for your literature review, which can make it difficult to remember what each article or book was about. Recording and organizing the important information from each resource is central to writing a comprehensive literature review.
The library has created the Scholarly Research Log (Excel file) to help you with this process. It allows you to quickly record important information about each item you read:
Once completed, the Scholarly Research Log can be sorted or scanned to help you make important connections between resources.
The most common way to find information on a topic is keyword searching. However there are other search techniques such as bibliography mining, cited reference searching and searching by methodology that may be less familiar. Doing an effective keyword search and also using these other techniques will allow you to know you have thoroughly searched all of the literature related to your topic.
The Library databases use a technique called keyword searching to find articles related to your topic. The following are the basic steps in conducting a keyword search:
Click the Keyword Searching tutorial on the right for more detailed information.
Bibliographic Mining and Cited Reference Searching are search techniques which allow you to trace the history of an idea captured in an article, backwards and forwards from its publication date. This helps you find more articles on your topic, including seminal articles.
To learn more about these techniques click the Bibliographic Mining & Cited Reference Searching tutorial on the right.
Finding articles and dissertations that use the methodology you want to use in your research can help you:
Additional Methodology Resources:
Click the Searching by Methodology tutorial on the right for more detailed information.
While scholarly journals articles will make up the majority of the sources used in your literature review, there are other sources you may need to include.
This section focuses on some of the most important sources other than journal articles:
Dissertations contain a wealth of useful information for anyone working on a literature review. The literature review chapter of any dissertation will make an attempt to cover all of the relevant literature on the topic. You can look at that literature review and the dissertation's references to discover sources you may not know about. Seminal literature is often difficult to find, unless you look at dissertations.
Click the tutorial on the right for more information on how to find and use dissertations in your research.
Finding a test or measurement instrument can sometimes be difficult and time consuming. The Capella Library has some resources to help you with this search:
The test and measurement databases listed above have test reviews, which include historical information related to reliability and validity, and contact information for the test's publisher. Not all tests are published, so the contact information may be for the test's creator.
You can also identify tests by looking at articles and dissertations in your field. Many will use an established test, and you may see that some tests are very popular in your field. You can then try to find the actual test.
How do you find a copy of a test or measurement instrument?
Before you use a test or measurement instrument in a research study, make sure you have permission from the publisher or creator. They may require payment for use of the test.
For more information about finding a test or measurement instrument, see our guide: Finding Tests & Survey Instruments.
Books are a great source of background information for your papers, research and coursework. They can offer a different perspective than articles because they tend to provide a deeper overview or framework for the topic.
In some fields seminal works are more likely to be in book form. If that is true for your topic, you may have to look for books in print collections.
Books are also are good resources to help you find out more about research the research and writing processes themselves.
The Capella Library has several databases that contain electronic books or Ebooks:
You can identify print books using any of the methods below:
Once you have identified a print book you want to read, you have several options for getting access to them:
Click here to view the Library's Guide "How do I Find Books and EBooks?"
Only a portion of all the books and articles ever written are available in electronic form. Others are only available in databases that the Capella Library does not have.
In order to have a truly comprehensive literature review, you may need to use books and articles that are not available in the Capella Library. You can request these items through Interlibrary Loan.
We will try to get the item from another library. Articles and book chapters are available through a link that is emailed to you, and books are mailed to your address. Interlibrary loan materials do take time to arrive, so plan ahead when you begin your literature review research.
Another important resource is the Online Writing Center. There you will find a variety of resources to help you: