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In this section you’ll find information and guidance on the literature search and evaluation elements of your literature review.
To find out more about subject specific databases, see the relevant Subject Guide on the Library Gateway.
Across all disciplines the purpose of a literature review is to provide a structured discussion of the literature which is relevant to your research topic.
A good literature review is not simply a description of the literature, nor a mere list. A good literature review frames the discussion around your research topic, using the ideas / results of previous work; it engages all of the literature, not just the work which agrees with a particular view; and it is critical in its use of the literature.
Before you begin searching for literature you will need to develop a clear idea of the research question you wish to answer. This does not have to be the final title for your research, but should be focused enough to help with your literature search.
Your first searches will most likely be for specific items– for example, an article in the bibliography of a book you read as part of your application.
As you read these specific items, you will develop an understanding of your topic. You will identify important authors, concepts, results etc. All of these can form the base for search terms. You can also use search terms from your research question.
Many databases will have a thesaurus or subject terms. You can use this feature to look for search terms- it can be helpful to check if your search terms match the thesaurus, and the thesaurus can also suggest additional search terms.
As you search, take note of the results. If they are not quite what you need- perhaps there are too few results, or a lot of irrelevant items- you might need to:
If a resource that you need isn’t available via the Library Gateway, you can request the resource or try to find it at another library.
We welcome suggestions for new books for library stock.
Document Delivery Services may be able to obtain books, journal articles, conference papers, and other items for you via Inter Library Loan from the British Library.
Using other libraries
You may also be able to access the resource at another library. Reciprocal borrowing agreements give you access to many other public and academic libraries.
You can find out about forthcoming conferences in your subject by using:
Some databases index conference papers. Have a look at the Subject Guide in your area for more information on what the databases cover.
Web of Science, a large multidisciplinary database, indexes conferences as well as other material – use the conference field in the search boxes.
You can also try the Directory of Published Papers (DoPP).
Doctoral and research Masters theses have been through a comprehensive review process to ensure their quality, and are often quoted in academic work. Undergraduate and taught Masters theses will not include marks (for confidentiality reasons) and it can be difficult to judge their quality.
All PhD and MPhil theses written by SHU students are available in the Library. Details of SHU theses can be found via Library Search.
SHURA (Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive) provides electronic access to some SHU Doctoral theses.
You can use the resources below to find doctoral theses from other institutions:
You can search the library catalogues of universities in other countries to find details of the theses produced by their students. If there is a postgraduate thesis you need, the Library’s Document Delivery Service will try to obtain it.
The following sources may help you to find theses & dissertations in progress:
Imagine you have identified the classic paper within your area and wish to explore how the field has developed since that paper was published. Citation searching allows you to follow the research trail forward and backwards in time.
Following the trail backwards:
Following the trail forwards:
Which databases offer citation searching?
Many specialist resources provide access to articles which enable you to:
Citation searching is available in a number of specialist sources. When choosing which source to citation search within you should consider the following points:
For example you may have found a number of results matching a keyword search. You could analyse the results to find:
This can help you to identify:
Looking beyond the results of your search
When you have searched a database you will be able to look at your list of results. You can also use database / article page prompts to locate additional content that may match your search or research interest. These are often described as:
Corrections are an important part of ensuring the body of information is reliable and are often included by the publishers of articles where it is thought these are necessary. If you find an article of interest, it can also be helpful to look out for:
In some cases, the issues with an article may be of a magnitude that requires it to be retracted by the authors or by the journal editor. The types of issues which cause retractions range from honest errors to misconduct such a plagiarism or fabrication. When a retraction occurs the article is NOT removed from the journal in print or online. The publisher will usually alert you to the fact that an article has been retracted, however this appears in different ways in different journals and library databases. Look out for notes and watermarks identifying retracted articles.
Retraction Watch is a blog following retractions. It can be a good way of keeping up to date with retractions and an interesting read for researchers.