Literature Reviews

Sources of information for the literature review and how to choose the best articles.

The choice may seem bewildering and the sources of information endless. How do you filter the information?

To some extent it is subjective. Aveyard (2007) recommends focusing upon areas that interest you, but how do you make sure you have the relevant sources to support your work?

Machi (2008) asks you to consider your research question first and ask whether this requires a broad or narrow literature review. For example, if your research question asks: “How the clinical assessment of dementia can be improved” then your study is broad and takes in many broad topics themselves e.g. dementia, current practice of assessments, diagnosis etc. However a narrower scope is: “How can the clinical assessment of memory impairment associated with dementia be improved?” This focuses the review on the key areas of dementia and memory impairment, rather than across multiple subjects relating to these key areas.

If you are starting, then Wikipeda or other subject websites can be an invaluable start to your research. They provide an overview of the subject as well as the names of people who have developed theory or perspectives. The important topics should be listed along with any peripheral areas arising from that main subject. Treat the information with caution though. It is generally not acceptable to reference Wikipedia , although it looks like correct facts, it may not be.

The best source is peer reviewed papers. These offer an interesting and fresh perspective and will publish the latest research on the subject. The peer review process will screen the information and the information should be reliable and can be referenced.

Review the papers that reflect the mainstream of work being done in your area of study and seek out those where opinion differs. For example, if you study “GM crop production and Bio Agriculture” your research may reveal a Nature paper later exposed as being bogus (see Saunders & Ho, 2004). The fact that this paper was bogus is not really of concern, but your failure to spot it or to research enough to identify it as a fake, is. Research is always going to be a matter of being as thorough as you can.

The nature of your essay or research question will usually indicate which references you will find most useful, so it is worth reading and rewording that question before you start. It may be obvious, but read a few times, that essay question may just offer you the clue that will direct your research to the most useful conclusion. As always, end your essay with a conclusion that gives your reader something to think about!


Aveyard, H. (2007). Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care. Open University

Press.Machi, Dr. L, A. ( 2008). The Literature Review, 6 Steps to Success. Corwin Press.

Saunders Prof. P., Ho, Dr. M-W., (2004) Bogus Comparison in GM Maize Trial. Retrieved on 1st May 2009 from:

Sources of information

Peer-reviewed subject databases

Questia – access to peer-reviewed articles:

Open access articles

Directory of Open Access Journals:

Peer review Open Access journals:


Academic software designed to help you

Academic Software


How to write your literature review



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