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Comprehensive Literature Review

Borrowed from Tulane University, Jennifer Corbin's guide for Forensics PhD students

Before you write, Search!

The first step in creating a literature review is, of course, finding the literature to review.  A good literature review should be as comprehensive as necessary to identify all of the major works and debates on your research subject.  Here are some tips for going beyond basic keyword searching in order to find as many sources as you can.

  • Subject-specific Databases - search in databases specific to your discipline of study to find more sources in your field. For example, GeoBase specializes in the earth sciences, and will have more coverage of geology and geography literature than an interdisciplinary, all-purpose database such as Academic Search Complete.  You should also search in more than one database/catalog since no one search tool covers everything.
  • Subject Headings - also called descriptors, these terms are assigned to items to describe their content, or what they are about. Subject headings often facilitate more precise searching as they eliminate the need to search multiple phrases and synonyms for the same concept.  Look for subject headings on items in the library catalog and in databases of journal articles.  Many databases also provide a thesaurus, or index, of the subject headings used.
  • Author Search - many researchers will write about the same topic for their entire career. Searching by an author's name may garner additional relevant information.
  • Bibliography Mining - use the list of works cited from a relevant source to locate additional related sources. Use the search box on the Libraries' home page to see if we have the item. 
  • Cited Reference Searching- peruse sources that have cited a relevant source. This is a way to look for relevant sources published since the item in hand was published. 
  • Beyond WVU - if you find a citation for a source and WVU researchers do not have access to it, use Interlibrary Loan (ILL)  to get it. Articles and chapters can usually be scanned and sent electronically, but books must be mailed and typically arrive in 1-2 weeks, so plan ahead.  Books may be borrowed for one month through the E-ZBorrow service.  

Article Databases

Use these links to identify a database that's relevant to your research question. 

Cited Reference Searching

So you have an article in your hands, and you've already raided the bibliography for citations.  But these are all older sources the author used.  How do you know who cited this article?  Try one of the following search tools to find "future" sources that cite the article you already have.