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How to Conduct a Literature Review: A Guide for Graduate Students

This is a guide to help graduate students successfully find, evaluate, and manage resources for a literature review.

Keeping up with the Literature

The Challenge

One of the challenges you face as a graduate student is that you may do a literature review for your proposal, put it aside to work on the main part of your thesis and not get back to the literature review for a year or more. In the mean time, your field is evolving, articles are being published and there may be new research to include in your thesis. How do you keep track?

Don't Panic!

Fortunately, there are ways for you to keep up-to-date on the literature in your field while you go about finishing your thesis. It is possible to stay current with the literature with little effort. Using a variety of alert services, you can keep up with literature in these ways:

  • Topic and subject alerts - an alert that returns articles any time a new article on a topic is published
  • Table of Content Services - the table of contents for Nature, sent to you each week
  • Citation Alerts - an alert that send you a notification every time an article you want to track is cited

Alert Services

Google Scholar and many database vendors provide alert services to do all of the above automatically - you provide the search parameters and wait for emails alerting you of new articles.

This sound great! How do I set up alerts?

The Library's Alert Services guide has the information you need to get started setting up alerts so you can focus on other parts of your research!

How much is Enough?

One of the questions that we often get is "How do I know when to stop searching?" It can be frustrating to seemingly never get to the end of your literature search.

An easy guideline to use is this: if you keep seeing the same references over and over, chances are that you've exhausted your search. What you're seeing is that your research topic has reached critical mass and you've found all the existing articles that are relevant. You can stop the retrospective searching and focus on writing your literature review.