Research Strategy Step 1: Use Sample Articles to Explore Databases
The best databases for this assignment will likely be:
The Recommended Databases page on this guide will give further suggestions, with Pro Tips for each databases and recommended databases for specific disciplines and subject-areas.
The best way to get a feel for a database and its features is to examine how it represents an article you already know something about. You might try this with the article "The hallmarks of cancer" by Weinberg.
- Try searching Web of Science using the article title and author name to search.
- Look carefully to learn more about the database.
- How is the article described? What index terms do I see?
- How might I find similar articles? What special search tools does this resource offer?
- How can I evaluate this and other articles? What assessment tools does this resource offer?
Research Strategy Step 2: Do some searching to find a topic of interest
Now try exploring your selected databases, like Web of Science, in order to develop and refine the topic of your Literature Review.
- Brainstorm the best search words to start with. The Search Operators page from the HOLLIS User Guide might help you.
- Type in a few keywords: do you notice any patterns in the results? Major topics, ideas, problems?
- Example: meditation AND emotion
- Try a new set of keywords: do these results give you a clearer picture?
- Example: (meditat* OR mindful*) AND (emotion* OR psycholog*)
- What are the general and broader fields of research that come up?
- What are the more specific sub-topics in the search results?
- Try your keywords in a different resource (HOLLIS, PubMed, Google Scholar) does this give you a new angle on your topic?
Research Strategy Step 3: Locate the most important recent publications on your topic
It's easy to find a source on a topic, but finding the best sources from the most reputable publications on the most important aspects of your topic can be a challenge! Here are some search tips:
- Learn the appropriate index terms and use those as your search terms.
- Filter your results by academic discipline, date, impact factor, etc.
- Look for review articles (aka "literature reviews").
- Find an important early study and trace it forward through a cited reference search.
- Find a recent study and follow its citation trail.
The Science Journal Metrics page on this research guide provides further guidance with cited reference searching.
Research Strategy Step 4: Look up relevant concepts, research fields, and methods
Why consult other resources?
- Your literature review may begin with a background or introductory section.
- From the National Library of Medicine: Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review.
The resources listed below have been vetted and peer reviewed by scholars. These are just a few options of background sources:
Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science & Technology, Springer 2012 and International Encyclopedia of Statistical Science, Springer 2011, are examples of encyclopedias, which help provide an overview of a field or sub-field.
Oxford Very Short Introductions are also designed to give you a general overview. They don't have an entry for everything, but what they have is informative and precise.
Pro tips for this resource:
- use the "Browse by subject" list to zero in on your topic (and get a sense of its disciplinary context).
- explore the "Chapters" tab for more specific sub-topics within the books.
CQ Researcher contains in-depth, single topic reports (with bibliographies) on a vast range of topics. These are written by journalists, who may be expert writers but are not usually scholars in a field, so these aren't scholarly articles. They're useful as background information on topics in the news.
Oxford Reference Online gives you access to entries in specialized encyclopedias and handbooks, and is useful when you want a quick answer about a very specific concept, condition, method, etc.
Pro tips for this resource:
- Use Advanced Search and select "entry title" to return entries that are wholly focused on your search term.
- Sort results by Length to get really quick or really thorough answers.
- Pay attention to the book title as well as the entry title: the entry for "Cancer" in A Dictionary of Astronomy will be very different the one in the Concise Medical Dictionary!
Search HOLLIS for additional subject encyclopedias, handbooks, and guides.
Pro tips for background material in HOLLIS:
- Use this search formula: your topic AND (encyclopedias OR handbooks OR companion OR overview OR guide OR casebook)
- Adjust your topic terms: start narrow ("phage therapy") and look through your results to find broader terms and index terms (bacteriophages, "complementary therapies").
Research Strategy Step 5: Get feedback and repeat steps 1-4 in any order
The steps above may make it sound like research is straightforward and rather formulaic, but that's not true at all. There is no right or wrong way to do research, everyone will have a different process and different suggestions. If you do it right, research should be a very messy and, most importantly, an intellectually rewarding process. Your topic and your list of sources, and your ideas, will continue to evolve as you search, skim, read, and reflect.