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This content is taken from the University of Wollongong's online course, Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review. Join the course to learn more.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds We get a lot of research consultation inquiries from students, and I would say more than half of those would be regarding how to do a literature review or how to find information on literature review. Well, the first thing we would say to a student that came to the library would be, did I understand their question? So we find a lot of the times they haven’t really thought about the question that well. So the first strategy would be pulling apart the question before they could do any searching. Most students that come to us don’t really know what they’re doing or where to start.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds So the strategies that we would say is, first, get clarity what it’s asking you to do, what the question is. If you’re not sure, check with your supervisor, and then come back and see us. And then we can help them extract the information. So the two main areas would be, where do I search? So where do they look? They don’t know where to start. And then once they find that, we help them with their strategies. So what we find is even before they’ll search a database, we’ll actually get them to type up a table with their questions, list the key concepts. And then beneath each key concepts, we’ll ask them can they identify alternative terms, synonyms to those terms.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 seconds We make them aware that different authors use different language to say the same thing. They’re not aware of that because, sometimes, I might punch in a search and go I didn’t find anything, but I haven’t really thought about other ways of saying the same thing. So that’s a really big one actually, that really identifying a range of keywords they can use and then how to connect those together. They struggle with not knowing where to start. And when they do start– so when we should say we refer them to a database– of a time saving, something they can do to save time is each database allows you the option to create your own account within that database.

Skip to 2 minutes and 8 seconds So when you start doing your search, it’s not like you have to complete all your searching in one go. You can do your search and save your searches. And then when they go back to that particular database, log back in, all their search history is still there, so they’re not starting again. So that’s a big time saver. So we’ll always show that if you just do a search here, if you don’t create your own account, everything will be gone. Create your own account within each database, and you can save a record of your searches.

Ways to document reading

The librarian - a researcher’s best friend

Your university or local public library will have great people to talk to about research. They’re experts at finding information, thinking about useful keywords, synonyms, and keeping good records of information searches. They understand how search tools work, how research publications are categorised and labelled in databases – and they can also help you choose software to manage the material you find.

When you start gathering a lot of reading material, it’s crucial to keep it organised and properly labelled, so that you can always find things quickly again whenever you need them. You will be reading scores, maybe hundreds, of papers, so you won’t be able to remember where particular ideas came from a week after you’ve read them – it’s essential to get organized. There are loads of software products to help you keep proper records of your reading, so get familiar with some, and talk to others to find what might suit you best. I‘ve added some links to popular software on the blog, at the bottom of the page (in the footer) under the heading ‘Bibliographic Tech’.

Another useful tool for keeping accurate records of your searches for information are spreadsheets, and many university libraries make search record templates available to students. At UOW, the library has created a ‘Search Tracker’ which you might like to download. We will look at how to use such templates in week two.

Tips & tricks

Before we start with our Conversation Starter for this step we have added some extra tips and tricks from our UOW Librarian Nick who you met in the video:

  • You can’t really do a good search of the literature without using a Database. Students often start with Google Scholar and that’s ok for grey literature like conference proceedings and business reports, but it doesn’t have advanced search features and there is no way of knowing if your search is returning high quality data.

  • Subscription databases (which the library pay for) will provide high quality articles. Databases the UOW Library recommends are Web of Science and Scopus which are aimed more towards science, but there are also discipline specific subject databases known as Lib Guides (Library Guides).

  • Open access journals are also useful. A lot of databases are starting to index open access journals which is important for people who are searching through the literature from home and don’t have access to a library’s databases.

  • Web of Science have an Unpaywall add-on or plugin for Chrome – this allows the latest published journals to be freely and legally available as a full text download.

  • The University of Wollongong ‘Literature Review Search Tracker’ - an excel spreadsheet which lets you plan, organise and retrieve your searches across numerous discipline specific databases.

Conversation starter

  • Have you spoken with a librarian lately? What valuable tips and insights has your librarian shared with you about finding research publications on your topic?

  • Which reference management software do you use, and what do you like about it?

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This video is from the free online course:

Research Writing: How to Do a Literature Review

University of Wollongong