Gathering resources for your literature review may seem like a monumental task. But if you use some of the tips outlined on this page, you'll be amazed at how quickly your list of resources will expand, without doing endless database searches.
On this page you'll learn how to:
- evaluate what you find
- use what you've found to find more relevant materials
- set up journal & search alerts
- assess if you've been comprehensive in your searches
Once you've identified some relevant articles on your topic, it's time to really examine what you've found! Specifically look for oft-mentioned or cited:
Articles that are cited in numerous papers may be worth reading and including in your literature review.
To learn more about finding exact articles in the Library, please see the finding exact articles Quick Answer:
Authors that are cited frequently may be important researchers in your field. Try doing an Internet search on the author's name to see what you can find. Many researchers working in academia will have websites with their research interests and publications.
You can also search the Library databases by the author's name to find other articles published by that author. This search is easier if the author has a unique name.
To learn more about searching by author, please see the Quick Answer on finding articles by author:
Books that are cited frequently may contain seminal or foundational research in your area of study. They may also lead you to other articles, books, and authors who are important in your area of study.
To learn how to find books in the Library and beyond, please see our guide to full text and finding an exact book:
Journals that are cited frequently may reference other articles that are relevant to your research.
To learn how to find a journal in the Library, please see the find a specific journal Quick Answer:
Citation chaining is a great way to find more articles for your literature review by using articles that you have already found.
For a quick overview of citation chaining, please see the Quick Answer on citation chaining:
For more detailed information about citation chaining, including how to use Google Scholar's Cited by feature, please see this literature review guide:
Journal & search alerts
Completing your capstone takes time. It may be a couple of years between when you first work on your literature review and when you complete your capstone research. In that intervening time, new articles and research may be published that are relevant to your topic. And some of the articles that you originally included in your literature review will now be older than the recommended five years.
Note: Please don't limit your initial research to fewer than five years because you don't want to have to go back and update these articles later. Remember, reviewing the literature is helping you gain the knowledge you need to be an expert on your field. It is not a one-time exercise. As you continue to work on your capstone, you will continue to review the literature so that you can stay current on your research topic.
There are two types of alerts that you can set up in the Library databases:
- Search alerts: Once you've identified a search that brings back relevant results, you can set up an alert so that anytime a new article that matches your search criteria is added to the database you will be notified.
- Journal alerts: If there is a journal that publishes a lot of articles that are relevant to your research, you can set up an alert so that when a new issue of that journal is published you are notified.
To learn more about setting up journal and search alerts, please see our guide to setting up alerts:
How many articles do you need?
Everyone's research topic is different and the number of sources necessary for one topic may not be appropriate for another topic. There is no magical number when it comes to the number of articles needed for a literature review. Refer to your capstone rubric, along with your capstone chair and committee, for guidance on how many sources you should include in your literature review.
You can find more information on capstone requirements for different programs at the Office of Student Research Administration:
When can you stop?
It may seem like the process of gathering resources for your literature review will never end! And, to a certain degree, you will be working on your literature review up until you complete your capstone. But, at some point, you will complete the bulk of your literature review and move on to the rest of your capstone research and writing. So, how do you know when you've been comprehensive in your literature review research?
If you've used all of the search strategies outlined in this guide, there's a good chance that you've found what there is to find. Here are some questions you can ask about your research strategy to help you determine if you've truly been comprehensive:
- Have you searched all of the databases listed for your subject area?
- Have you searched databases in other subject areas that are related to your topic?
- Have you looked up dissertations?
- Have you searched Google Scholar?
- Search Terms
- How many different search terms have you tried?
- Have you brainstormed synonyms for your topics and searched for those?
- Have you examined the subject terms in the databases to see if there are any additional search terms you should try?
- Citation Chaining
- Have you examined the reference lists of relevant articles you've found?
- Have you used Google Scholar's cited by feature to locate articles that cite articles you've found?
- Have you set up journal and/or search alerts so that you're notified when new articles on your topic are added to the databases?
- New Content
- When you're searching in different databases with a variety of search terms are you finding new relevant items that you've never seen before?
- When you do citation chaining, are you seeing articles and authors that you haven't seen before?
- Chair/Committee Feedback
- What does your chair or your committee have to say about your literature review?
After you've answered these questions for yourself, here's one last question to ponder:
- Using all of your carefully crafted search skills, do you keep seeing the same articles and authors over and over? If so, then chances are you've been comprehensive!