From a lurker: something we all have to do but are rarely taught about is constructing a literature review. Any strategies out there? Our reader provides some VERY HELPFUL strategies (after the break). But further suggestions from you would would be much appreciated! For me, one of the central questions here is not just how to do this, but how to decide what literature is the best literature to situate your project within. This isn’t always as obvious as it seems it should be. My advice: when doing a lit review for a project, it is often very helpful to know what your data say. I often write introductions last, after all the other work is done. So projects often start with lit reviews. But in my experience these are radically re-worked once you’ve gotten your hands dirty with the data. More practical suggestions after the break:
1. ISI Citation Databases/Social Science Citation Index
-If you aren’t already familiar with this then you need to be! Extremely useful for finding key articles because of the ability to sort by number of citations. This isn’t a sure-fire way to find the most important articles so don’t just use number of citations but it pretty much always leads you to some key articles and from there you can quickly get to others.
2. Google Scholar
-Also can be good for articles but I use it primarily for books. Particularly nice for books because of the google books project that let’s you flip through some of the book to get a sense of whether or not it might be useful before you run to the library or purchase it.
3. Comp reading lists from our department and other top departments
-A good place to find an introduction to a general field. It will give you a sense of some of the most important articles and the general topics for the field and you can dig deeper from there. Some times reading lists will be fairly comprehensive, though they rarely have the latest “cutting-edge” research.
4. Syllabi from key people in the field or really respected institutions
-Works similarly to the comp reading list though it may be better in some instances. Of course, if you’re looking for syllabi based on the key people in the field this requires you to know who these key people are in the first place. If it’s a fresh syllabus then it will often have newer research. Depending on the time put into the syllabus and the level of detail it may also give you a much better sense of how the field is loosely organized.
5. Annual Reviews
-Not surprisingly, these tend to have diminishing returns as they age. If there’s one that’s recent and for your specific interest then these are often money. If the article is less recent but not especially “old” it should still give you a nice framework upon which to build. If it is older then it can still be useful though. Some times the key features of a debate last a long time, often debates are cyclical, and, if nothing else, they can give you a bit of a history lesson to help you understand where the current literature is coming from.