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Library Guide to Capstone Literature Reviews: Scope


When working on your literature review, you will read and look at hundreds of articles, books, and other materials. However, you will not include all of them in your final literature review. This does not mean you've wasted your time looking at unnecessary articles! Rather, this review of the literature is what helps you become an expert in your field.


On this page you will learn more about:

  • what types of sources to include in or use for your literature review
  • how to find current research
  • how to identify and locate peer-reviewed articles


For additional information on the scope of your literature review, please see this guide from the Writing Center:


Most of what you include in your literature review will be peer-reviewed journal articles. However, other sources may be appropriate to include in your literature review as well. You will need to consult and be familiar with some resources, like dissertations, even though you will not typically use them as a source in your literature review.

Foundational literature

Foundational literature, also referred to as seminal research, is the original or groundbreaking work in your area of study.

  • This includes the literature and theorist(s) that developed or first wrote about a concept or theory.
  • Foundational literature will generally be older than five years and may have been published in a book, and not in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • While it is important to show that you are aware of the foundational literature in your field, it will not make up a huge section of your literature review. Resist the urge to make your literature review a history lesson.

Authoritative sources 

Authoritative sources are reputable institutions that produce reports and data that are accepted as accurate and reliable. Their publications do not generally go through a standard academic peer-review process. These are some examples:

  • Government publications
    • Census data
    • Department of Education statistics
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports
  • Professional organizations
    • American Psychological Association
  • Think tanks
    • Pew Research Center


Dissertations are great resources to use, but you will typically not be able to cite them in your own dissertation.

  • You want to be aware of dissertations on a similar or related topic because you will need to understand how your research builds on, or is different from existing research.
  • Dissertations can be great resources for seeing what instruments were used, or what sources were cited. You can then use that information to locate the original instrument, research article, book, etc.

Background materials

There are other helpful sources that you may refer to when doing research  that will not be a part of your final literature review. They include:

  • Textbooks
  • Encyclopedias
    • Wikipedia

To learn more about evaluating the resources you find, please see the Library's Evaluating Resources guide:

Publication years

Much of your literature review will focus on the current research being done in your field, meaning research conducted within the last five years. However, the foundational or seminal research in your field is almost always older than five years.

In order to make sure you are a well-informed scholar, it is a good practice to begin your research without limiting your searches by date.

Once you are familiar with the research in your field, you can focus your searches on only those items that were published within the last five years.

Most of the Library databases have an option to limit your results to a certain time frame. Please refer to the Keyword Searching guide to learn how to limit by date:

Peer Review

Peer review is a specific quality control process that journal publishers use to ensure that what they publish is accurate and reliable. Most of the sources that you include in your literature review will be from journals that use a peer review process. To learn more about peer review, please see our Peer Review guide:


If you need to verify that an article is from a peer-reviewed source, you can do so with Ulrich's Periodicals Directory. Here is a guide that will help you learn how to use Ulrich's:


To learn more about different types of academic resources that are published, please see the Publication Comparison Chart:


You can check your program's peer review requirements by visiting the Office of Student Research Administration website: