Research Methods: Doing a literature review

Eira Patterson | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Finding information in texts

When you are searching the literature, it is important that you have established in your mind what you are looking for and this is achieved by having a clear focus for your research. An electronic search will identify a range of sources, some of which will be directly relevant to your work, and others which will be of limited or no use. To evaluate how useful a source is it is necessary to be able to read quickly, using for example the following techniques:

  • skimming a book involves looking through quickly, focussing on signposts like the contents, headings, introductions and conclusions
  • scanning is a quick search of the text looking for key words or other specific information as in the case of journal articles you would read through the abstracts quickly, actively searching for key words and phrases related to your research focus.

When you have found an article that is particularly useful (especially if it is quite recent), go through the reference list and use this to identify other sources that look interesting. In the case of academic books, when you have identified book titles from an electronic search to help you decide how useful a book may be, look through the contents first to find chapter headings that might be of interest and then speed read excerpts from a chapter. Another way to help you find relevant books is to make use of annotated bibliographies in books you have already used and found relevant to identify new sources.