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Writing a Literature Review

Getting Started

Become familiar with the topic

Even if you're somewhat familiar with the subject, it's helpful to start with background information that provides a history of the major thinkers, theories, and time periods associated with the topic.

Gale Virtual Reference Library contains academic encyclopedias on a wide range of subjects

Subject Guides often contain academic encyclopedias and dictionaries specific to your subject

Books are also an excellent source for background information as they cover subjects more comprehensively than articles. 

To find books and ebooks held by WSU Libraries, use the Online Catalog. For books not held by WSU Libraries, search WorldCat and use Interlibrary Loan to borrow books from other libraries.

Start with a Broad Search

SmartSearch is the library's most comprehensive search engine.  It includes scholarly research articles in every academic discipline as well as newspapers, magazines, videos, and more.  This makes it a great place to start research and get familiar with the scope of published research on a topic.

Diving In

Subject Databases

Searching a database that's limited to research in your subject allows you to identify relevant literature more efficiently than a general search tool like SmartSearch. If your topic crosses multiple disciplines, for instance education and psychology, it can be useful to search a database for each. Use the Subject Guides most related to your topic to find appropriate databases and search tools.

Conference Proceedings and Dissertations

Some topics may require information from additional sources beyond academic journals, either to find the most current information or to include pertinent data that originated outside an academic institution. Many journal databases provide access to conference proceedings, reports, and other types of publications. See the Subject Guide for your topic to find an appropriate database. For dissertation databases, see the Theses and Dissertations library guide.

Government Publications

See the Government Information Research Guide to learn more about searching these sources.

Search Tips

Questions to Ask

  • Is your topic too narrow or too broad?
  • How current does information need to be for this topic?
  • What is of current interest to scholars in the field?
  • How have perspectives changed over time?

Bibliographies/Works Cited

One of the most efficient ways to discover new research is to scan the bibliographies of any studies you find, as the research done to write that work is most likely also relevant to your topic.  You can then search for the articles in SmartSearch to find the full-text.

Finding published literature reviews

An existing literature review on your topic, or a similar topic, will provide an excellent starting place for your own work.  Try adding "literature review" to your search terms see if any have been published.

"Cited By"

In many databases you will see a link under each article that says "cited by" which will show you all of the studies that have cited that article since it was published.  This provides a picture of how the research has progressed and can lead you to further relevant research.  GoogleScholar is particularly strong in this feature.

Email Alerts

Some databases allow you to set up email alerts for specific search terms so you can stay updated as new research is published on your topic.  Look for a link within the database you're searching, or ask a librarian.

Getting Help

Don't hesitate to ask a librarian at any point in the literature review process, we're here to help!

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