Survey What is Already Known or Theorized

Handbooks and companions are typically edited volumes, with chapters written by authoritiesor recognized experts. They synthesize current "consensus" thinking around a particular topic or present the most widely accepted perspectives and theories. They usually contain an extensive bibliography which you can mine as well.

Some major collections: 

HOLLIS is also a good place to search for these tools. Try combining a broad keyword search with this format type (e.g., genocide AND handbook | historiography AND companion). Other terms to try (for rough equivalents of the handbook) are "guide" and "reader." 

Track Current Trends, Questions, and Debates


Monitoring the latest issues of key journals in your field can help you catch wind of new ideas, schools of thought, and trending debates that may connect to your academic curiosity. The following tools aid your efforts to keep up to date:

  • Browzine
    This app organizes scholarly journals by topic area and allows you to read them for free in a format optimized for your device.
  •  Current Contents Connect
    A current awareness database that helps busy researchers keep up to date by providing easy online access to complete tables of contents, abstracts, and bibliographic information from the most recently published issues of leading scholarly journals. To connect, select Current Contents Connect from the "Search in" drop-down options in the Web of Science database, linked here. PRO TIP: Use Table of Contents alerting to be notified when new issues of relevant journals are available. To do so, check out these instructions.


Literature reviews are essays that help you understand and contextualize the principal contributions that have been made in your field. They track trends over time in the scholarly discussions of a topic and synthesize and connect related work. They cite the trailblazers and sometimes the outliers, and they even root out errors of fact or concept. Typically, they include a final section that identifies remaining questions or future directions. The following are recommended as starting points among the databases for finding literature reviews:

  • Annual Reviews offers authoritative syntheses of the primary research literature in 46 academic fields, including anthropology, economics, law, political science, and sociology
  • Find literature reviews in various databases by using the filtersbefore or after your keyword searchto limit to literature reviews. You can do this in some of the standard social science research databases you'll be using: APA PsycInfoSocial Science Premium Collection, and Web of Science, among others.
  • ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global is the official digital dissertations archive for the Library of Congress and as the database of record for graduate research, this database includes millions of searchable citations to dissertations and theses from 1861 to the present day. The vast majority are available in full-text. 
    • While faculty may have different opinions on whether dissertations should be cited in your research, they'll often agree that Dissertations can be gold mines for their bibliographies. Moreover, by convention, dissertations always have a literature review section (normally an entire chapter) in which writers lay the groundwork for their studies by identifying and synthesizing what's come before them. They're often worth a look as you gather a list authorities to track down and read.  And sometimes, they're great places to find primary sources, survey instruments, case studies, and more.
  • This slideshow is a quick primer on conducting research for and writing a literature review.

Prioritize Your Reading

Often the issue in information-seeking isn't scarcity of material, but is overabundance. Annotated bibliographies that are created and curated by scholars aim to address the common problem of knowing what to read, whom to read, or which voices in the conversation to attend to more fully.

  • Oxford Bibliographies Online 
    Combines the best features of the annotated bibliography with an authoritative subject encyclopedia. Entries identify key contributions to a topic, idea, person, or event and indicate the value of the work.