Public Policy & Administration

What is a Literature Review?

​A literature review is both a summary and an explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a narrowed topic as found in academic books and journal articles.

What are the Purposes of a Literature Review?

  • situate your work in its discipline/area/subfield 
  • develop an understanding of how knowledge in your discipline/field/area has changed over time
  • develop mastery of what's known in your area, and part of the larger discipline that contains it
  • compare different conceptual or sub-disciplinary approaches to your topic
  • compare and contrast different theoretical schools or leading researchers in your area
  • identify methodologies that you might use in your work

Types of Literature Reviews

Keep Track of your searches

Search for pre-existing literature reviews

Some databases include "literature review" as one of the limit options you can set before or after doing your search: your search will retrieve only literature reviews. PsycInfo allows for this under Advanced Search.

However in most databases, you will have to add a term for "literature review" to your search. Other search terms that may be helpful:

  • review article
  • systematic review
  • critical review
  • literature
  • bibliography
  • meta-analysis, meta analysis 
  • re-analysis of data

Guides to literature reviews


Encyclopedias, Dictionaries & Handbooks

Consult other library subject guides for additional sources.

Key Databases for Journal Articles: 

Additional Databases: 

Good to know:

  1. Within a database, limit your search to scholarly articles when it is appropriate to disregard other resources.
  2. Never limit to full-text only as we may subscribe to the journal you find from another vendor.  Use the Get it! icon to search for the full text when it is not immediately available.
  3. Use available options to search more than one database at a time.
  4. Look for the option to set up an RSS feed  or to Create an Alert.  You are then notified when a new entry is added to the database that meets your search criteria.
  5. Use the Interlibrary Loans RACER form to request items not held at Carleton’s library.  
  6. For additional relevant databases, look at the Subject Guides that best relate to your topic, such as  Global & International Studies,  Philanthropy & Nonprofit LeadershipGovernment InformationCanadian Studies, Business, Sociology etc.​

Consult the News Guide for details of news sources

Tips for searching newspaper databases.

For current Canadian newspapers/news

For historical Canadian & other newspapers


Dissertations and Theses Global   Dates covered: indexing 1743--; full-text 1997--   Provides citations and abstracts to Master's and Ph.D theses from North American universities

Theses Canada/Thèses Canada Provides free full-text access to a growing number of Canadian theses starting from 1998 as well as bibliographic information on older theses dating back to 1965.

For a full list of databases see:   Theses & Dissertations : Databases

Find missing citations, track references and find related articles

Why is this important?

  • Cited Reference Searching guide
  • keeping track of how many times and where a publication is being cited can help you gauge the impact that article has in your discipline
  • if the article has been cited, you may find 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
  • to determine how well your own published research is cited for promotion/tenure considerations
  • don't forget to keep track of your searches! Literature Reviews: Keep Track (UBC)


Web of Science    
       Select Cited Reference Search from top tool bar.
You have the article
          Burstein, P.  2003   "The impact of public opinion on public policy: A review and an agenda."  Political Research Quarterly  Volume: 56   Issue: 1   Pages: 29-40

       Enter the  author in cited author box
               Burstein P*  (use surname, first initial and truncation symbol)          
       Retrieve abbreviation of journal name from list provided, and enter year of publication.  POLIT RES QUART
       Enter cited year: 2003
From the list, select the ariticle and click on Finish Search at the top of the list.
Results show the article has been cited 410 times - the most recent in  2019.
Note the option Create Alert to be notified of any future citing of this article.

       Choose Author Search from top tool bar.
       Enter author's name and affiliation if known
               Onwuegbuzie, Anthony John
       Select displayed result.  All published articles by the author will be listed.  Click on article for citing references.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony John and Nancy L. Leech,  "Validity and qualitative research: An oxymoron?"  Quality and Quantity  Volume 41, Issue 2, April 2007, Pages 233-249.  This article, published in 2007, has been cited 228 times, the most recent in 2019.

Tips for effective searching

If you find one relevant article for your research it can lead to other relevant papers by the following:

  • using the databases, including Omni, look to find all papers & books published by the author or co-authors
  • explore the bibliography in the paper for sources
  • using Web of Science or Scopus, look for articles that cite the article you found. Remember, some databases will also list citing articles but those lists are limited to the current database. The Web of Science and Scopus are more comprehensive, with coverage from multiple databases. 
  • Remember to see if an citing article has itself been cited.

Journal Ranking   

Journal Citation Reports - Provides citation-based metrics to rank journal within a given discipline.  Choose Select Categories and limit by subject areas such as:

  • Public Administration 
  • Economics
  • Political Science

Grey literature is an important source of information for research in public policy that: 

  • adds a valuable global perspective
  • provides detailed overviews on specific populations
  • may be only source of local information

Grey literature is defined as "information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing" ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body." —ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997. Expanded in New York, 2004

Library resources


Policy Reports and Working Papers

Think Tanks

Government Information 

NVivo is qualitative data analysis software intended to help researchers organize and analyze data, identify trends, and cross examine information in a variety of ways.  Consult the NVIVO service web page for more information about this tool and training workshops.

Sage Research Methods supports researchers throughout a research project, from writing a research question, choosing a method, gathering and analyzing data, to writing up and publishing the findings.

SPSS and Stata

The library offers a statistical consulting service to help students, faculty and other researchers in the Carleton University community with their questions regarding quantitative data. 

Content last reviewed: July 8, 2020