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Searching the Literature A literature search has three main purposes: • to summarize prior research in a specific area, • to evaluate prior research, • to define/refine your research project. Conducting a literature review helps you avoid naiveté, repetition or unnecessary work. Before you begin your own project, you must know something about what has been done in that area already.
Writing a Lit Review n Written literature reviews typically serve one of two purposes: ¡ ¡ n Synthesize (and evaluate) research in an area for interested professionals (informative) Demonstrate your credibility and the need for your proposed project to clients/funders (persuasive) Think of a lit review as an orchestrated conversation with you as the conductor.
FOUR STEPS TO THE LITERATURE REVIEW 1. Research Primary Sources ¡ Focus on timeliness and comprehensiveness 2. Analyze And Select Studies ¡ Evaluate articles and locate major findings 3. Synthesize And Integrate Findings ¡ Group and cluster prior work to present trends and patterns across studies 4. Discuss General Conclusions ¡ ¡ Outline future implications and influences on field “Clear space” for your own work
Tips for Literature Reviews n n n Brainstorm topics related to your project – look “at the edges” of your project to determine what you need to know Use academic/government databases, professional society web sites, and selective internet searches to examine the literature before you start to write. Focus on peer-reviewed, archival sources. Assess work to determine research questions, methods, materials, and findings to get a feel for what you can say about the literature Learn to skim (abstracts, introductions, conclusions) Use other people’s bibliographies to lead to important prior work.
Tips for Literature Reviews n n n n Don’t get bogged down: don’t spend time with irrelevant articles and don’t think that you can review every possible relevant source Record all references with annotations: begin a bibliography Practice good note taking, abstracting skills Thematize the literature into coherent subheadings based on your goals Develop a working thesis – what can you say about the state of the art? Find an order for presenting the material based on your goals Set a stopping point (then return to the review later)
Questions for Evaluating Sources n n n What problem/issue does the work address? What methods does the author use? What are the major findings? What are the major gaps or next steps? How does this work relate to your project? What can you use? What elements are important to build on?
A Few Library Databases n n n Sci. Finder ANTE Engineered Materials Abstracts Engineering and Technology Materials Research Society Online