What's scholarly research?
How is scholarly research different from what I've done for university papers?
- Work you complete for university courses tend to be research essays or other course-based projects requiring a certain number of scholarly/peer-reviewed sources. You're not delving deep into all the literature on your given topic.
- Scholarly research is typically undertaken by honours students, graduate students, and professors, who are experts (or becoming experts) in a given field of study. They do research to contribute knowledge in their field, and continue or start scholarly conversations. These typically take the form of scholarly articles, books, theses, or dissertations, and required a detailed understanding of the literature on their topic.
What's a literature review and why do I need to do one?
University of Houston Libraries. (2019, October 29). What is a literature review? [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/6keepo3Kqcs
Writing a Literature Review
Websites to help you get started and write your literature review:
- The missing link in the literature review process: 4 elements to look for when reviewing the literature. R. Pacheco-Vega
- Writing a literature review in psychology. University of Washington Psychology Writing Center
- Write a literature review. UC Santa Cruz University Library
- Literature review guidelines. American Psychological Association
Books to help you get started and write your literature review:
You can access the e-books using the links below, or visit the library to borrow the print books
- Hempel, S. (2020). Conducting your literature review. American Psychological Association [e-book, print book]
- Fink, A. (2020). Conducting research literature reviews: From internet to paper. (5th ed.) [print book]
- Felix, M.S., Smith, I. (2019). A practical guide to dissertation and thesis writing. Cambridge Scholars Publishing [e-book]
Examples of literature review articles and literature reviews within articles or theses/dissertations:
- Taylor, S. (2022). The psychology of pandemics. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 18(1), 581-609. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-072720-020131 (Full-text access through UNB Libraries)
- This is a review article
- Speed, D. (2022). Throw BABE out with the bathwater? Canadian atheists are no less healthy than the religious. Journal of Religion and Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-022-01558-w (Full-text access through UNB Libraries)
- This is a research article with a thorough literature review as the introduction
- Grossman, H. (2021). Predictors of online compulsive buying during the COVID-19 pandemic. University of New Brunswick
- This is an undergraduate thesis with a thorough review of the literature as the first section.
UC San Diego Psychology. (2018, June 9). How to write a literature review. [Video]. YouTube.
Advanced Search Tips
A few words of wisdom:
- There's no right way to do research, but there are some best practices to help make it easier. What follows are some tips and tricks for approaching searching for literature reviews or research projects which build on what you already know about how to find articles
- Searching for research is both an art and a science. How you approach it often depends on your topic, and may be slightly different with every new topic - make note or reflect on what's worked for you in the past, what hasn't, and whether you need some librarian help (I really love searching so I'm happy to help!)
Brainstorming and gathering search terms:
- Use your own knowledge of your topic, a thesaurus, or articles (look at title, abstract, and author keywords) you've already found to gather new search terms.
- Do some database searching and look at relevant records - titles, abstracts, and database keywords for other ideas
Advanced database search tips:
- Basic keyword searching will still work when searching for literature reviews but there are ways to step up your search game
- Bring your brainstormed terms together using Boolean operators to cast a wider net to find relevant articles
- The example uses brainstormed terms and Boolean searching for a research topic with two concepts - religion and parenting. You can see the number of PubMed database results for each concept - religion has 182,625, parenting has 40,327, and combining them in the database with AND returns much fewer results, 661 - these should only show results touching on something from each concept, but not everything will be exactly relevant for your research topic
Here's what Boolean searching looks like in PsycINFO:
Choosing which databases to search:
- Once you've gotten to know your research topic a bit, you should think about what disciplines would study it - is it purely a psychology topic, or could it be studied by researchers in education or history? Think about it and do some quick searches in databases from other disciplines to see what's out there
- For database ideas, check out other subject research guides
- A subject-specific database doesn't have all the articles in that given field - each database indexes a particular list of journals, and just because it's a psychology topic, doesn't mean the journal is indexed in PsycINFO
- For example, this article by Dr. Roach about bird song, "Repertoire composition and singing behavour in two eastern populations of tlie Hermit Thrusii (Catharus guttatus)" published in Bioacoustics, can be found in PsycINFO, but a different article by Dr. Roach, also on a bird song topic, "Markov dependencies in the song syntax of Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)" published in the Journal of Ornithology isn't indexed in PsycINFO. Instead it can be found if you search biology, wildlife, and ecology databases such as BIOSIS and Wildlife & Ecology Studies Worldwide. Bird song is a psychology topic and you should search PsycINFO, but it shouldn't be the only database you consider.
- If you usually add limits to your search results, like clicking the "peer review" button or limiting by articles published from the past 5 years, I suggest you try not doing that. Searching for a literature review means you're trying to get a broader sense of the literature on a given topic, and database limits can get in the way by only showing you some of the literature
- You can still try the language limits, though leaving them off may give you a sense of whether your topic is being studied in a non-English language, which could be useful knowledge, even if you can't read those articles
UNB Libraries. (2021, June 14). Boolean operators. [Video]. YouTube. 2:42mins
UNB Libraries. (2021, June 14). Keywords, synonyms, and phrase searching. [Video]. YouTube. 2:03mins
UNB Libraries. (2021, July 23). Searching tips and tricks. [Video]. YouTube. 5:53mins
UNB Libraries. (2021, June 14). Subject terms and thesauri. [Video]. YouTube. 2:57mins
Searching & Research FAQs
How many articles do I need to find?
- It depends on your topic and how much is out there in "the literature". For a literature review you need to have a thorough understanding of where your project fits within the wider research landscape, and that may mean wading through 100s of articles, or a handful, depending on how much it has been studied.
How many databases should I search in?
- It depends! Ideally more than one, but it depends on what subject areas your research topic touches on. See more information here on how to choose which databases to search.
How do I know if my search strategy is working?
- It may take scanning the titles/abstracts of the first 20-50 results to get a sense of whether your search strategy is finding relevant articles. If you don't see anything relevant, look at the keywords you used and whether the results are lining up at all, or whether you're seeing other keywords in the results to try instead; maybe one part of your topic isn't being covered with your current search or needs to be revised. Play around with your keywords, try other synonyms, scan the results, and try again, this may take several changes to start seeing relevant results.
- If you've tried a few different strategies and still aren't seeing relevant results, it may be time to try a different database. There should be more than database option for your topic, or some that are multi-disciplinary (like Scopus of Academic Search Premier), where you can see if your search strategies may find more relevant results. You can also try searching all databases on a platform like EBSCO, to get a better sense of which databases might be more useful to search individuals. See this step-by-step guide on how to search all EBSCO databases simultaneously.
I can't find anything on my topic, how can I do a lit review?
- Sometimes despite having multiple search strategies, trying different keywords, and searching in multiple databases you still may not find any relevant articles. Depending on your research topic this can be a good thing, as it means you have stronger justification for your work, and how it will help fill a gap in the literature. But you still have to write a literature review with sources, so how do you put your research into context without any sources?
- Remember, it's not about the number of articles you can find for your lit review, it's about reflecting the state of the field as it is.
How do I know when to stop looking for articles?
- It depends, but here are a few ways to tell:
- Are you seeing the same articles over and over again in your searching, while using different databases and different search strategies? If yes, you're likely done.
- You can do a few more steps with the articles you've found and see if you can find any more by looking at the reference lists, and checking Google Scholar or Scopus to see if anything more recent has cited them.
- You can also see which authors have come up multiple times and see if they have additional publications you haven't found yet. Then when you start writing you may need to do more searching to fill in gaps.
How do I get the whole article without having to pay for it?
- If you've used databases via UNB Libraries you should either see the full-text available directly within the database, or a Check for Full-text icon which either links out to the article if we have it or to a form requesting the full-text. This is a free service available to you, though it can take a few hours or days to receive the article, so don't leave requests to the last minute! You can also request articles you find outside of databases using the same form to place a document delivery request.
You can also link Google Scholar to UNB Libraries' collection:
- Follow the instructions under Details to connect your Google Scholar search results to UNB Libraries' holdings - once you've linked your account, use the "Check for Fulltext @ UNB" links to either get access to the full-text article or request it if it's not in our holdings
Or use tools like Unpaywall:
Visit their website for more info on how to get the Unpaywall browser plug-in that looks for open access versions of paywalled journal articles (aka ones you're prompted to pay for)
How do I organize my research articles?
- There's no right way to get yourself organized for a research project, but you should take some time in advance to plan what that is for you. UNB Libraries supports Zotero, a free citation management program, which lets you easily collect your articles in one place (including pulling in the PDF full-text if available), annotate and make notes on those articles, and then create citations for your final papers. You can also create group libraries to share with other people. Check out our guide on how to get started and use Zotero.
- You can also reach out directly to Richelle Witherspoon, one of our Zotero experts, for one-on-one help
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