Tools For Preparing Literature Reviews
Main ToolbarPreparing Scholarly Reviews of the Literature: A Webtorial

This web site will teach you how to use research literature from the social sciences in a scholarly and professional manner.  It is intended for masters and doctoral degree students in all the social sciences, although particular emphasis is given to the fields addressed by The George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development.  This site covers: 

  • Searching for research literature efficiently, finding what you need quickly, finding the full text online when available, and avoiding an avalanche of irrelevant references. Hint: Your favorite search engine will not find most of the scholarly literature!  Note: As of 2005, most of the general guidance in this section on searching is still useful, but the specifics about various search tools are obsolete.
  • Assessing individual reports of research literature to determine whether their findings and conclusions should be relied upon or are likely to be misleading.  Hint: Some of the research literature on almost every topic is misleading or trivial. 
  • Integrating the various studies on a topic to make the best assessments of what is known about the topic, to identify promising future research, to improve conceptual frameworks for research, and to determine the advantages and disadvantages of previously used methodologies.  Hint: This isn't easy because the available studies usually exhibit apparent contradictions.

  •  
        “If I have seen farther than others, it is because
          I stood on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton 
The accumulated research literature on any given topic is a potential mountain lookout to interested scholars and practitioners.  It can indicate what knowledge is well verified, what should be considered tentative, and what is without any foundation.  It can suggest new theories that better organize disparate knowledge and better predict the future.  It can point to the unknowns that would benefit from further research.  And it can suggest methodologies for research addressing those unknowns. 

The accumulated research literature on any given topic is also a potential snake pit.  The good literature is accompanied by other literature that is based on rhetoric, wishful thinking, speculation, invalid findings from poorly designed studies, and duplicitous attempts to mislead. 

Whether the literature helps you gain perspective or clouds your vision will depend on how you search for the literature, how you critique individual studies, and how you integrate across studies.  This web site will help you with all three tasks. 

How This Webtorial Will Help You

This site provides you with a series of brief lessons on critical aspects of searching for research literature, assessing the quality of individual reports, and integrating across several reports. 

  • Lessons will explain, demonstrate, and sometimes have you practice and receive feedback on your developing skills. 
  • Treasure Chests will offer supplemental resources that might help you.
Organization of the Site

Searching for Research Literature

Note: As of 2005, most of the general guidance in this section on searching is still useful, but the specifics about various search tools are obsolete.

  • Lesson S-1:   Overview of modern search strategies
  • Lesson S-2:   Web Search Engines--to get a "quick take" on a topic
  • Lesson S-3:   ERIC--to find scholarly literature related to education 
  • Lesson S-4:   PsycInfo--to find scholarly literature in psychology 
  • Lesson S-5:   ABI/Inform--to find scholarly literature on business and management
  • Lesson S-6:   UMI Dissertation Abstracts--to find doctoral dissertations in all fields
  • Lesson S-7:   Other Search Tools--for finding literature in the social sciences
  • Lesson S-8:   Reference Librarians--for help when all else fails
  • Lesson S-9:   Finding full text scholarly literature online 
  • Lesson S-10: Bibliographic databases for storing "finds" and formatting reference lists
  • Treasure Chest for Literature Searching
Assessing Individual Research Reports:
  • Lesson A-1: Overview of assessing research 
  • Lesson A-2: Assessing the literature review that informed the study
  • Lesson A-3: Assessing the problem statement and research questions
  • Lesson A-4: Assessing the sampling 
  • Lesson A-5: Assessing the data collection
  • Lesson A-6: Assessing the data analysis 
  • Lesson A-7: Assessing the conclusions and recommendations
  • Lesson A-8: Assessing the conclusions of the study 
  • Treasure Chest for Assessment
Integrating Multiple Studies On A Given Topic:
  • Lesson I-1:  Overview of integrating across studies
  • Lesson I-2:  Integrating conceptual frameworks across studies
  • Lesson I-3:  Integrating methodologies across studies
  • Lesson I-4:  Integrating findings across studies
  • Lesson I-5:  Integrating research problems across studies
  • Lesson I-6: Planning promising future research
  • Treasure Chest for Integrating Across Research Studies
User Notes
  • This site presumes that you have basic skills in using a Web browser, including how to activate hotlinks, use the vertical and horizontal scroll bar, and use the "Back" button.
  • At the bottom of each page for this site there will be a button to return you to this home page.
  • The general principals in the above listed lessons will remain valid for many years, but some of the specifics about SEARCHING will become outdated soon because Web-based resources are changing rapidly. 
  • A few of the linked resources are "proprietary" and will be available to students only at universities that subscribe to the particular resource; that will be noted. 
  • This site hotlinks to resources on many other Web sites and some of the links may become inactive or switched to another URL. The site will be updated about twice a year. 
  • Suggestions for improvements are welcome. Tell us how to make this Web site more helpful. What should be added, modified, and deleted? What hotlinks have perhaps become inactive? Send your feedback to gjackson@gwu.edu. We will not be to answer messages sent to that address, but every six months the messages will be reviewed and updates made to this web site. 

Last Update: July 30, 2006

Acknowledgments: This Web site was developed by Dr. Gregg Jackson, Dr. Adrianna Kezar, Maria Kozi and Nina de las Alas, in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University. Dr. Jackson is an Associate Professor of Education Policy and Coordinator of the Education Policy Program. Dr. Kezar is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. Ms. Kozi is the Information Services Coordinator at the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education and a freelance Web designer. Ms. de las Alas is an M.A. candidate in the Education Policy Program and a research assistant. The Graduate School provided a Technology Project Grant to cover direct expenses associated with developing this Web site. Several faculty and students provided helpful feedback on the prototype. 

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