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Literature Reviews

First Steps: Finding Core Sources

If you haven't been reading for long in a particular area, starting a literature review can feel daunting.

Here are 4 steps you can take to help you get started:

  1. Consult handbooks in your discipline or academic area (if these exist)
  2. Search for pre-existing literature reviews.
  3. Check recent theses or dissertations in your subject area or on your topic.
  4. Look for scholarly journal articles in your subject area.

Consult Handbooks

Handbooks are a type of reference resource on a particular discipline, academic field, or subject.

From the Wikipedia page on 'Handbooks': they provide "compendiums of information in a particular field or about a particular technique."

Some publishers in the humanities and social sciences refer to handbooks as "companions." Here are some examples:

  • The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard
  • The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought
  • The Cambridge Companion to Baseball

Handbooks are a solid first place to get a sense of a particular topic and give you background. They can potentially help you in numerous ways:

  • Show you key ideas or concepts in a discipline or on a topic
  • Show how definitions of a particular concept might have changed over time
  • Indicate why certain aspects of a topic have been singled out for research over time
  • Identify well known authors or researchers in a field

Try the keyword search term handbook*, as well as your topic of interest, in LibrarySearch to begin to look for handbooks.

  • E.g., handbook* kierkegaard

Search for pre-existing Literature Reviews

Others might have done literature reviews in your area before you.

If pre-existing reviews can be found, they can be very helpful in giving you a kind of 'map' to the literature.

WIth a pre-existing literature review, you get an example of how these documents are written.

Use LibrarySearch to find literature reviews:

  • E.g., "literature review" AND nursing

Check recent Theses or Dissertations

Nearly all graduate level (i.e., master's level or PhD) theses contain some sort literature review.

If there is a thesis or a dissertation that has been written in your subject area, it very likely has a literature review contained within, and that can be potentially very helpful to you.

At the VIU Library, you can search look for theses or dissertations (doctoral theses) in two ways:

  1. On the Library main page, simply type your main research topic (or related keywords) into the LibrarySearch box, and then limit your results to "Dissertation/Thesis."
  2. You can also access a specialized database called "Dissertations and Theses: Full Text" and search by keyword on your research topic.

Look for Scholarly Journal Articles

After you've looked for overviews of your topic through handbooks and searched for pre-existing literature reviews or theses, it's time to get into the main search for literature in your area.

Use LibrarySearch or specialized databases in your area to look for scholarly journal articles.

Some search suggestions:

  • Refine your results to peer-reviewed articles.
  • Try different search terms to describe your topic.
  • Individual articles that you find may have a 'literature review' section within them.
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