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How to do a Literature Review

How do I begin?

Coursework leading up to the thesis provides the best opportunity to explore topics of interest.  Discussion with fellow students and with faculty advisors is also useful.  Graduate students can often build a file of articles that might lead to a thesis topic while writing other papers.  [Please note links to databases require your SacLink login if you are off campus.]

  • Choose the right Vocabulary.  Create a Brainstorm list – keywords and subject heading that relate to the topic.  This list will grow as new sources reveal additional terms or controlled vocabulary that are used by the Library of Congress Classification System by or indexes and abstracting services.   Many indexes and online databases maintain their own list of subject headings, often called a Thesaurus of Descriptors.  Learning how to identify the appropriate terms to describe a topic is the key to finding the best material. It's always a good idea to stop by the Reference Desk and ask for help with this.
  • Make friends (and a research appointment) with a librarian.  A list of Subject Specialists is on the Library home page. Most under-graduate students can do adequate searching in databases to get enough information for 5-10 page papers, but graduate students are expected to become expert searchers and find the definitive research materials to support their thesis statements. Librarians with subject expertise in your field of study are available for individual research appointments and can show you how to take advantage of all the special features that our research databases provide. Many databases include programs that will convert the citations found in a database into the correct style format required by your department, such as APA, MLA, Chicago or Turabian. Make sure the librarian shows you these short-cuts and also how books from this library can be found in WorldCat which also has citation software.
  • Download and learn how to use EndNote.  We have a site license for EndNote (see blelow) a bibliographic software that can manage and format your citations and download them directly from various databases that you have searched.  Go to the EndNote Research Guide  for more details.
  •  Consult a special encyclopedia for an overview.  Each discipline has its own specialized reference tools.  Check the Research Guides on the Library homepage to see if a librarian has prepared a guide. Look in OneSearch under your disciplineand add “—Dictionaries” It will showcase some of the most useful sources e.g., “History Dictionaries” or “Social Services Dictionaries”.
  •  Find articles from appropriate databases.  Use the Database and Article Searching page to identify databases recommended by discipline.  Choose advanced searching mode  and limit searches to scholarly or peer reviewed articles whenever the option appears.  Read the Help screens.  These few minutes will pay off richly in better search results.
  • Check out Government Documents.  The U.S. government is the largest publisher in the world.  CSUS is a partial depository of both state and federal documents.  The California State Library downtown is a complete federal depository library while both our library and UC Davis select documents that support our curriculums, and so are considered partial depository collections.
  •  Find statistics!  Start with a statistics database such as Statista or try the Statistical Abstract of the United States, HA 202, (online link below) or combine your search with the subheading, “-- statistics.” in OneSearch.
  • Identify the major scholars in your field – use the Social Sciences Citation Index database to determine which articles are cited most often using your indexing terms.  It is a complicated system, so ask a librarian to help you search. Some databases, such as   PsycInfo, now allow searching within the" Reference" or bibliography field, so users can determine if certain authors are being cited by others.
  • Determine if there’s a dissertation related to your topic.  Many databases include dissertations from other universities and often permit searching limited to this type of publication. Citations and abstracts are searchable online through Dissertations and Theses Full Text (see below) with coverage back to 1637. Full text is available in pdf for the most recent years.  For older years you may have to try interlibrary loan or deal with the commercial service, Dissertation Abstracts International produced by UMI.  CSUS also has the paper Comprehensive Dissertation Index which covers American dissertations back to 1861.  Once a useful dissertation is identified, it may be purchased through University Microforms International, either online at the link listed above or by calling 1 (800) 521-0600.  Most universities do not lend their dissertations through Interlibrary Loan.
  • Find what other libraries have – Use the Catalog of the CSU Libraries. Try MELVYL the Catalog of the University of California Libraries, or WorldCat , which contains over 50 million records with material dating back to the 11th century.  
  • Use our Interlibrary Service to borrow books, journals and other research material the CSUS Library may not own. From the library home page click on My Library Accounts to create an ILLIAD password to allow you to borrow books and/or articles from other libraries through the Iliad system and to create OneSearch account in so that you can place holds on books and renew them online.
  • Join an electronic community (e.g. Wiki or Listserv) or follow a noted blogger on your research topic to network with others in your field, using email or other kinds of discussion groups. 
  • How do I know when I've finished?  A true scholar is never done reading and researching in his or her field. The simple answer is that this question is decided between a graduate student and the thesis advisor.  Once all the things suggested above have been accomplished, the components of Chapter Two will be ready.

  • Dissertations & Theses Full Text
    Full text for Part A: Humanities & Social Sciences dissertations and theses with copyright permission.
  • EndNote Research Guide
    EndNote Research Guide page with instructions on how to download program for free from campus software page. Details on how to set up bibilographic software to manage research so you can cite while you write (CWYW)