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Undergraduate Research & Research Apprentice Students: Literature Reviews

This guide is intended to help undergraduate students work through the literature review and research process.

What is a Literature Review?

The function of a literature review is to address the previous research that has been done on a particular subject. This previous research serves as a foundation for you to develop your own unique hypothesis. One of the motivations for conducting a literature review is to ensure the argument you plan to present has not been presented before. This page includes techniques for finding articles for your literature review, as well as an explanation of "peer reviewed," or "scholarly," works.

For an in-depth explanation of the writing process for a literature review, check out this webpage from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill's Writing Center.

Conducting a Literature Review

There are several ways to go about finding articles for your literature review. It's a good idea to try each approach so that you get a well-rounded view of the subject area you are researching.

  • Identify Seminal Works: Try to find the seminal, or most important, works on the subject. What articles are cited by other articles over and over again? You can also ascertain how important a work is by looking at its citation count. Search for the article in question using Web of Science or Google Scholar, then take a look at the number next to the "Times Cited" or "Cited by" links. The larger the number, the more times it has been cited by others.

  • Forward Search: You can also click the "Cited by" link in Google Scholar to find other relevant articles on your subject. If another article has cited an article you found to be useful, they are probably on similar topics. This is called forward searchingClick here to view a brief demonstration. This video includes audio explanations.

  • Backward Search: Whenever you find a relevant article, take a look at its reference list. The articles listed are likely to be related to your subject, too. Also, you may start to see the same authors repeatedly. This should indicate that those individuals are important scholars in this field, and you should attempt to find the research they have done, too. This method is called backward searchingClick here to view a brief demonstration of citation searching using Research@UWW.

  • Search Subject-specific Databases: Search databases that specialize in your research topic. See the Finding Articles tab for a listing by subject.

Search Google Scholar

Google Scholar Search