A literature review is an assessment of a body of research that addresses a research question. It aims to review the critical points of current knowledge, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic.
STEP ONE: Watch this video
STEP TWO: Check out this webpage: Conducting a Literature Review
STEP THREE: Sage Research Methods go the the Project Planner
Find for Dissertations and Theses
Many dissertations and theses require a literature review. Most of these appear near the very beginning of the dissertation so that the writer can position their work relative to other relevant work in the field.
- CURVE - Carleton's institutional repository. Theses and Dissertations created by Carleton University students.
- Dissertations and Theses Global
- Other Dissertations/Theses databases
Find More Literature Reviews
TIP: You can do an ADVANCED search in PsycINFO and limit by methodology: literature review
To come up with keywords, identify the most important words in your research question or topic.
State your research question or topic.
Do video games increase violence in teens?
What are the key concepts? Think nouns and noun phrases.
Do video games increase violence in teens?
List related terms
- Consider how different people or communities talk about the concept.
- Consider how language has changed over time.
- Think of broader terms, narrower terms, or synonyms.
Consider Using Some Search strategies
- " quotations to search phrases.
- * an asterisk to find word variations.
- AND, OR, NOT to combine terms.
Example: "video games" AND (teen* OR youth) AND (aggression OR violence)
Make sure you check the HELP or ABOUT pages for each database you use.
Consider these questions to generate more search terms
- WHO: Who is involved? Whom does it effect? Is there a specific population you will focus on?
- WHERE: Where did it begin? Do you want to focus on a specific geographic region?
- WHEN: When did it begin? Do you want to focus on a specific timeframe?
- WHY: Why does it matter? Why do you think we should investigate?
Try different search combinations and strategies! The process is iterative.
Database searching is NOT like Google! Most do not support natural language searching. You have to be precise in the words that you select.
Developing a good search strategy is important
Answer the following questions:
- what is your assignment?
- what is the main topic?
- who has an interest in that topic?
- what other language might they be using to talk about that topic? do they spell it differently?
- when was it relevant? is it a new idea, or a long standing issue?
- what other factors play into your issue? geography, government, people, etc.
Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form
- How do Canadian social workers treat teenage drug abuse?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
- Canada, social work, teenage, drug abuse
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
- teenage - juvenile, youth
Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.
Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement
- Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
- Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
- Canada AND social work AND teenagers
- Canada AND social work AND (teenager OR youth OR juvenile) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.
A wildcard is usually represented by a *. This is also called truncation. Sometimes it is represented by a ?
- (teenage* OR youth OR juvenile*) AND Canad* AND (drug abuse OR substance abuse)
Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching
Some databases search each word separately. To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.
- "drug abuse"
Your final search string should be something like this:
- Canad* AND "social work" AND (teen* OR youth OR juvenile*) AND ("drug abuse" OR "substance abuse")
TIP: Check the About or HELP pages for each database to ensure you are using the correct Boolean operators for that database.
Step 7: Evaluate your results
If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:
To broaden your search (find more):
- Find synonym for each keyword.
- Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
- Use wildcards/truncation.
To narrow your search (find fewer):
- Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
- Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').
Pick a research-tracking method
- Keep track of what you learn from the sources that you use for your writing assignments.
- The low-tech way to keep track of your research sources is to use 3x5 or 4x6 index cards. Use one card per source consulted.
- Note the source's bibliographic information on the top of the card so you'll have the information ready when you need to cite the source in your bibliography. Make your notes on the remaining space on the card.
An electronic form is another good way of keeping track provided by the following universities:
Start your research on the Library's home page using OMNI.
Then use the subject databases:
- Databases tagged for Social Work
- Both CPI-Q and Canadian Business and Current Affairs Database have Canadian content.
- JSTOR and Google Scholar are both excellent multidisciplinary databases. More multidisciplary databases.
- Criminal Justice: Criminal Justice Abstracts
- Education: ERIC
- Elderly: PsycINFO and Sociological Abstracts
- Gender and women's studies: Gender Studies database and Studies on Women & Gender Abstracts
- Health (including women's health): Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL) and PubMed and Scopus
- History: America History and Life (covers Canada and the US) and Historical Abstracts (covers the rest of the world)
- Human rights: HuriSearch
- Indigenous peoples: Bibliography of Native North Americans or America History and Life
- Mental Health: PsycINFO
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSPpubs
- Political Economy: EconLit
- Policy-related literature: PAIS Index and Business Source Complete
- Poverty: Sociological Abstracts and World Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Abstracts
- Children: Child Development & Adolescent Studies and PscyINFO
Do not limit yourself to these databases. Check the Databases by Subject page to see where there may be more databases that suit your research.
For Grey Literature see the Subject Guide on Grey Literature or sign up for the professional development course called Grey is the New Black - Grey Literature: How to Find It offered on February 22nd from 2:00-3:00 pm. Sign up.
What is cited reference searching?
A simple and useful way of finding additional resources on your topic is to track citations backwards and forwards.
- Find a useful paper, check the reference list (these papers will have been published BEFORE your paper), AND
- Find a useful article and check who has cited it (these papers will have been published AFTER your paper).
Cited reference searching, or citation analysis, also called citation tracking, is a way of measuring the relative importance or impact or an author, article, or publication, by counting the number of times that author, article, or publication has been cited by other works.
There are a number of tools available; however, no single database covers all works that cite other works. Searching across several databases is necessary to ensure complete coverage.
Why is this important?
- keeping track of how many times and where a publication is begin cited can help you gage the impact that article has in your discipline
- if the article has been cited, the database will provide a link to the citing article/author
- to locate current research based on earlier research
- to find out how a particular research topic is being used to support other research
- to track the history of a research idea
- to track the research history of a researcher
Use our main search tool, OMNI to do cited reference searching. Click on these icons to either "find sources cited in this" OR "find sources citing this".
Use our Cited Reference Searching page to find out which of the big databases allow you to do this and how to do this.
A few other databases allow for this as well:
- General or Social Work specific library information: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Citation Management: email@example.com
- Other subject areas (scroll down)
- Library Account problems
- Interlibrary Loans (RACER)
- Copyright OR contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Data Management
- Scholarly Communications including: DOIs, Open Access publishing, and resources for authors.