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PS 300: Research Design

Course help page for the PS 300 literature review assignment.

Picking a topic

Before you start to search, you will probably want to have a general idea about what your topic will be. It should be something with two sides or multiple perspectives. Something that you feel strongly about is a good staring point.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this a topic that has more than one viewpoint?
  • Is this something you've seen in the news or read about? in other words, has there been some research done on the topic? You may not be able to answer this question right away but you want to keep it in mind. You'll also want to make sure there is enough research on your topic so you can get multiple perspectives.
  • How recent is the issue? You'll have more luck finding articles on topic that are of current interest.

Broswing magazines and journals for topics is a good starting point. Look at the tables of contents to see what topics are being addressed.

Still stuck? See some of the tools below to help you choose a topic.

Literature Review: Getting Started

A literature review is a survey of scholarly resources relevant to a particular subject or area of research. The purpose of a literature review is different from other research papers: it is to give you an overview of what has been published on a topic, and a basis upon which to build your own scholarly approaches to that topic. It is not meant to be a presentation of new research or scholarship. It should instead provide background for the problem or put it into perspective.

Start by searching appropriate databases. This can also include Google Scholar (regular Google is too broad). By using databases focused on your discipline it will save you time and make sure you get the majority of the information that's been published. Please refer to the resources in this guide to identify some databases that may be appropriate for you to search. If you are unsure about a database, please ask a librarian or your instructor for help.

Be sure to keep complete bibliographic information as you collect your material. This will save you considerable time when you write your reference pages/bibliography.

Once you have gathered the information, you will then need to evaluate it and determine which articles makes a significant contribution to the understanding of your topic.

Smart searching

When searching in catalogs and databases:

  • Be creative in the words you use; if one doesn't work, try something else. Think of words with related meaning, such as natural resource management or restoration or conservation
  • Begin with keywords, and use the subjects found in the articles that come up to find more information
  • Use quotation marks around phrases, so they won't be searched as individual words.
  • Use advanced search features in catalogs and databases to limit by date, language, type of article, etc