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Education - Doing Literature Reviews

Develop your background

Start with sources that synthesize information about the history and current state of knowledge regarding your topic.

The types of sources to look for include: topical handbooks (in some disciplines these are called 'companions), current textsrecent dissertations/theses and literature reviews. Aside from their content, these will provide very useful lists of references.

Building this knowledge base will help you critically analyze existing research. Read to discover:

  • how the definition of the topic has developed and changed
  • what are the key works and  who are the key theorists
  • what methodologies have generally been used for research in this area
  • what components of the topic have been singled out for special attention and why
  • how are the different studies relate

Find a Handbook

Look for a current handbook in your field to identify key authors, titles and issues. There are handbooks about most major subfields of education, and these contain 'state-of-the-art' chapters on contemporary topics within that subfield (e.g. International Handbook of School Effectiveness and Improvement). 

In the library catalogue add handbook$ to your search terms ($ is the catalogue's  'truncation symbol' which makes the system search for either handbook or handbooks)

 HINT: If you're overwhelmed with irrelevant results, try searching using either the 'subject' or 'title' button (see below)


Find 'review articles'

These journals specialize in publishing review articles. Look at them for examples of comprehensive literature reviews but also try searching for your topic in them - you may be lucky and find a substantial review article of relevance to you.

Review of Educational Research
Each issue of this quarterly journal contains critical reviews of current research in the field of education.

Each volume of this annual publication concentrates on research in one or two related areas of education.

This quarterly journal from Britain publishes review articles about current national and international issues in schooling and education.
This bi-montly journal publishes evaluative and integrative research reviews  - both qualitative (narrative) and quantitative (meta-analytic). The focus is on issues in scientific psychology.  Search for your topic, or for literature review.
This quarterly journal publishes integrated review articles, although it is not limited to those exclusively.  Search for your topic, or for literature review.

Look for literature reviews done by others, especially comprehensive 'review articles'.

Try adding literature review* or review article to your topical search, whether in a journal database or Google Scholar. Meta-analysis or metasynthesis could also be helpful terms to add. 

In PsycINFO, first perform your search. Then click on 'additional limits' (near the bottom of the screen below the search box) and choose literature review as a Methodology (see below).


The ERIC database uses "literature reviews" as a descriptor (its term for subject headings).

The ERIC example below combines a keyword search for 'second language teaching' with a SUBJECT (descriptor) search for  'literature reviews.' 

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