How to find substantial literature review sources?

By Riya Jain and Priya Chetty on May 12, 2022

In a research paper, the literature review focuses on summarising, evaluating and criticising existing studies on a problem area. It is essential to include only relevant and recent sources. However, often researchers while reviewing the literature focus on just presenting the information without examining the credibility of the source. This results in reducing the efficiency, relevance, and reliability of the study. Hence, to build an impactful literature review, the selection of good data sources is necessary.

Common sources of literature review

There are many types of sources for literature review. They can be classified as periodical articles and published pages. Period articles are those which are published in scholarly publications and magazines. On the other hand, published pages consist of peer-reviewed journals, articles published in professional journals, edited academic books, website material, and government website data (BCCampus, 2021). Thus, the commonly visited places for literature review sources are review articles, conference proceedings, and periodical articles.

Literature review sources
Figure 1: Literature review sources

For this, some of the most common databases to search are (Mccombes, 2021)–

  • Google Scholar
  • Scopus
  • Scirus
  • Web of science
  • EconLit (for economics)
  • Medline (for articles on biomedicine and life science)
  • Project Muse (for social science and humanities)
  • Inspec (for studies related to engineering, computer science, and physics)
  • AGRICOLA (National agricultural library for agricultural field studies)
  • ERIC (Education resources information centre for education-related studies)

Ranking of most and least acceptable literature review sources

Literature review sources can be categorized into three main classes based on levels of acceptability.

Literature review sources acceptability
Figure 2: Literature review sources acceptability (LibGuides at Kettering University, 2021)

Primary sources

These sources are the original documents i.e. the first-hand information or the raw material. Primary sources peer-reviewed or scientific journals are excellent and most acceptable primary research sources. In social and natural sciences theses, academic journals are the most acceptable literature review source. Some common examples are – journal articles, technical reports, dissertations, theses, patents, conference proceedings, official reports, or court records.

Secondary sources

These sources are like second-hand information that could be based on primary sources. It consists of discussions, interpretations, or comments regarding the original content. These sources are also acceptable but comparatively less than the primary sources as the information is not completely based on original content (LibGuides at Kettering University, 2021; Rebus Community, 2021; University of La Verne, 2021). Some of the secondary source examples are encyclopedias, biographies, commentaries, reviews, monographs, handbooks, dictionaries, bioinformatics, or critiques.

Tertiary sources

Tertiary sources are those that synthesize and analyze the information regarding a given topic. These sources are majorly a medium of providing information about information. Either they summarize the information in an easily understandable and user-friendly form or list out the major primary and secondary information sources. Since the sources don’t have major technical information, they are the least acceptable literature review sources (University of La Verne, 2021). For example; library catalogues, literature guides, guidebooks, or factbooks.

Strategies for finding the best literature review sources

  • Usage of Boolean operators like AND (social media AND generation Z), OR (generation Z OR adolescents), or NOT (apple NOT fruit) for listing out only relevant keywords while selecting sources via different databases.
  • The sources included in the study should be directly related to the research problem. Thus, the inclusion of studies not related to the research problem should be avoided.
  • Sufficient time should be taken for including only the most relevant sources so that contents providing conceptual information could only be considered.
  • The information in the literature review sources should be completely based on secondary analytical sources and not only the primary studies.
  • The sources considered for the study should be based on validating the assumptions of the study and not on providing alternative interpretations or contrary findings.
  • The literature review should not describe the search procedure.