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Higher Education & Student Affairs: Conducting a literature review search

A collection of of library and web resources frequently used in higher education and student affairs research.

Beginning a literature review

Select a topic, scope, and purpose for the lit review and identify some preliminary search terms.

Nouns tend to work better than adjectives. For example, if I am researching the role storytelling plays within formal and informal mentoring situations, my first search string might be: the role storytelling plays within formal and informal mentoring situations

                        Based on my results, I may have to get more specific: storytelling, mentoring, higher education

Create a list of keywords, terms, and phrases related to your topic.

List both general and specific terms.

May use subject/specialized encyclopedias at this stage for overview and to identify other key phrases or terms. Thesauri or helpful sites such as Lexipedia may suggest alternate terms.

Begin to identify tools to use for searching. Subject databases within the field are appropriate; also consider tangentially related disciplines that may discuss your topic (for example, certain education topics are also covered extensively within the field of psychology).

Skim the information the library provides about what is in the database to help determine if it will contain topical info.

Example: JSTOR database: Though some titles are available through the most current issues, issues from the past 3-5 years are not available for most titles.

Note that Summon searches for books and articles, but doesn't have all the articles and books in it.

Armed with search terms and strategic search locations, start to cast the net by finding sources.

Finding multiple sources

Search for information using a variety of sources. For example, library catalogs may guide you to books and chapters of books, films, music, or other types of media.

Library databases will help you find articles within the database. Each database contains specialized, unique content (although there will be some overlap in the articles found in each database). Dissertations represent new research; the bibliographies may help identify key research you will also review.





Test Instruments

Print indexes in the field may also be appropriate. Contact your subject librarian for assistance with searching in paper indexes.

Expand your search

After collecting all the relevant books, articles, dissertations and other materials, expand your search.

Helpful materials contain more than just the study or results presented; often the bibliographies and references of helpful materials help cast the research net wider.

Trace research backward by checking the bibliographies of the most helpful and also the most recent materials collected on a topic. Identify the sources cited that match with your own interest in the topic. Locate those sources. Continue branching backward.

Does your research contain any gaps? Start to address areas where coverage is light or non-existent by searching specifically for those areas--back to the top and identifying a new round of search terms and places to search.

How to know when you are done

Of course, you will feel that you are never done.

However, a point will arrive when searches in different locations no longer find new results related to your topic, and all the material found no longer cites material that has not been found or is not relevant.

Set up journal or search alerts if interested, and move to the next phase of your work.

Who is my librarian?

Each department, school, or program has a librarian assigned to work directly with its faculty and graduate students to provide in-depth research and subject specialization.

A listing of subject librarians.

Do you Interlibrary Loan (ILL)?

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) is the BGSU Libraries interlibrary loan (ILL) system.

Log in to your Interlibrary Loan (ILL) account in a separate window while searching for books and articles; this saves typing much of the citation information needed when requesting articles.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) FAQ

Register for Interlibrary Loan (ILL) here. This account is separate from other accounts you may have at BGSU, including your library account. You will need to create a username and password to request and retrieve materials.

Dissertation Calculator

Created by the University of Minnesota Libraries, the Dissertation Calculator breaks down the process of writing a dissertation into discrete elements.

Many resources recommended to U of M students are also available to students and researchers at Bowling Green State University.