Part I: The Research Process
Searching the Literature
To make a meaningful contribution to your field, you must have a thorough knowledge of the research and scholarship that precedes and surrounds you. You must immerse yourself in the literature relating to your topic so you can accurately reflect prior scholarship and place your work within a meaningful context.
In other words, you must conduct a thorough literature search.
A literature search for a scholarly study is not the same as finding sources for a term paper; you need to be systematic in identifying the full universe of sources relating to your topic. Here are some of the sources you need to consult in your literature search:
- Summaries of research in your field (e.g., handbooks and annual reviews of research)
- Books and monographs
- Scholarly journal articles
- Conference proceedings and papers
- Government reports and statistics
- Professional association publications
- Citation indices
- Specialized Web directories
- Experts in the field
Talking to Experts
Some of your best research resources may be colleagues and experts in your field. You may be able to discuss your idea with them if you:
- Call on the phone
- Send an email
- Meet at a conference
- Join an electronic mailing list on your topic
Make sure you have done your homework. Be well informed about your contact and know what you want to discuss about your topic.1 Also be respectful of your contact’s time. Request an interview or ask permission to pose a few questions at your contact’s convenience, rather than launching directly into demands for input and information.
How good are your literature searching skills? Take this self-assessment to find out where you might need help.
Self-Assessment of Literature Search Skills
- I know how to find out which articles have cited a key author in my field.
- I know how to find government statistics and reports on my topic.
- I know how to locate scholarly articles and/or research reports on my topic.
- I know how to find conference proceedings and papers related to my topic.
- I know how to locate dissertations on my topic.
- I know the difference between primary and secondary sources and how to find both types of resources.
Stumped? Ask a librarian! Your academic library staff provides expert advice and resources on all aspects of conducting successful literature searches.