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Literature Reviews

This guide defines and explains the literature review process.

Selecting a topic

One of the most important steps in research is selecting a good research topic. This page on the Capstone Research Guide will guide you through selecting a topic, writing a thesis statement and/or research questions, selecting keywords, and recommended databases for preliminary research.

Remember the goal of your literature review

The goal of the literature review is to provide an analysis of the literature and research already published on your subject. You want to read as much as possible on your topic to gain a foundation of the information which already exists and analyze that information to understand how it all relates. This gives you the opportunity to identify possible gaps in the research or justify your own research in relation to what already exists. 

This page will walk through the steps in: 

  1. Planning your research 
  2. Collecting your research 
  3. Organizing your notes 

Planning your research

After you have chosen your topic, you will want to make a plan for all of the places you should look for information. This will allow you to organize your search and keep track of information as you find it. In a document, make a list of possible places you might find information on your topic. This list might include: 

  • Library databases - See section "Finding scholarly journal articles" below
  • Research facilities - Are there organizations or institutions which publish and share research in your field of study?
  • Open Access Journals - See section "Open Access Journals" below
  • Webster University library catalog - See section "Finding books" below
  • The catalogs of other libraries - See section "Finding books" below

Keep in mind that a literature review necessitates the use of scholarly research. These are peer-reviewed articles written by graduate or post-graduate students, educators, researchers, or professionals in the field. These types of articles wil include standard citations for the works they reference in their research. 

Popular vs. scholarly

What is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article?

Scholarly articles are sometimes "peer-reviewed" or "refereed" because they are evaluated by other scholars or experts in the field before being accepted for publication.  A scholarly article is commonly an experimental or research study, or an in-depth theoretical or literature review. It is usually many more pages than a magazine article.

The clearest and most reliable indicator of a scholarly article is the presence of references or citations. Look for a list of works cited, a reference list, and/or numbered footnotes or endnotes. Citations are not merely a check against plagiarism. They set the article in the context of a scholarly discussion and provide useful suggestions for further research. 

Many of our databases allow you to limit your search to just scholarly articles. This is a useful feature, but it is not 100% accurate in terms of what it includes and what it excludes. You should still check to see if the article has references or citations.

The table below compares some of the differences between magazines (e.g. Psychology Today) and journals (e.g Journal of Abnormal Psychology).

Comparing popular magazines and scholarly journals
  Popular magazines Scholarly journals
Reference list, citations no yes
Appearance flashy cover, photographs, advertisements mostly text, often graphs and charts of data, few ads
Titles short and catchy long and precise
Article length short long
Audience general public students, professionals, researchers
Authors staff writers, journalists practitioners, theorists, educators
Peer-review no yes
Publisher commercial company educational institution or professional organization

How to find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles

Finding scholarly journal articles

To get a sense of the available research, you may want to start with a multidisciplinary article database such as Academic Search Premier or Business Source Complete (for management and business).  Then, you may want to do a more thorough search in additional specialized sources--see the link below.

Finding or requesting full-text articles

From a library database

When the PDF or HTML full-text is not available in one of our databases, use the "Full Text Finder" button. Full Text Finder will allow you to link to the article in another database. If no full text is available you may request an electronic copy of the article through Interlibrary Loan.

From another source (e.g. online, Google Scholar)

Many articles that you find online may require payment (aka paywall) to download the article. In many cases the library can get the article for you for free to keep you from having to pay out of pocket. For more information, please visit our: 

Why not just use Google Scholar?

While Google Scholar can be a useful source for finding journal articles, there are advantages found in using Webster University Libraries' databases, including:

  • Features that let you customize your search
  • Access to more full text materials
  • Integration with other library services (e.g., chat, delivery services, etc.).

For more information on using Google Scholar, view the FAQ: How can I connect Google Scholar to the Library?

Finding books

Do not forget books when you are surveying the literature. They often provide historical information and overviews of current research in a topic area.

Open access resources

When something is published as an open access resource, it is published online and can be accessed for free with few or no copyright restrictions. Open access resources allows you to search, download, and cite researchers who have chosen to publish open access without paying for each article.

Searching through open access resources might be a great option for your research once you have exhausted the databases. Please note that sometimes, an open resource repository can be difficult to search through as often there are fewer ways to limit the search. 

Manage your own downloads and citations

As you download articles and begin to identify helpful resources, you will need to develop a method of keeping track of this research. No matter the method you choose to use, make sure that: 

  • Any article you've downloaded is saved in a labeled folder which is easy to access
  • Any citation you have created is saved and accessible

Using your own method

You can certainly create a system for organizing your downloads, citations, and other electronic notes. Use the file storage system on your computer, or cloud computing software like Google Drive or Dropbox. Create folders specifically for your project and save everything you think you might use. The benefit of managing your research this way is that these options are often free and allow you to have access to materials beyond your time as a Webster student.

Managing your citations

There are a number of software programs available that help students store references and notes, create bibliographies, etc. While not needed for every assignment, they are useful for when you are gathering a large number of articles and other resources for projects such as capstone papers, theses, and dissertations. Some of the main citation management software applications are listed here.

Organizing your notes: Synthesis matrix

Because the purpose of the literature review is to analyze the research on the topic and find relationships between resources, simply reading the resources and keeping notes may not be enough to help you see the connections between the resources. 

One option is to create a document with a chart used solely to compare the ideas and methods of various scholars and researchers. This is called a synthesis matrix. Before starting a matrix, you may want to identify a couple subtopics or themes to track within the articles you read. Other themes will reveal themselves as you read the literature and can be added to the chart. 

Below, you will find some examples of synthesis matrixes. Use inspiration from any of them to design  your own matrix which works best for your style and ideas. No matter the design of your matrix, some of the items you may want to compare across resources are: 

  • Publishing Date: Show how an idea has developed over time due to continuous research. 

  • Research Methods: Discuss findings based upon research type. You might ask yourself: How does the method used to collect the data impact the findings of the study? 

  • Themes: Which topics are covered in the article and what does the author believe about that topic?