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SOCI 347: Asian Sociotechnical Imaginaries

Literature Reviews

You will likely go through the search process a number of times, performing different searches with different keyword combinations, to address the different components of your literature review. 

Systematic Searching Handsearching
#1 Identify your question. Identify the key concepts and related terms. Tip:  You may want to re-phrase your question. Background reading can help you identify related terms and further define or narrow your topic.  Explore reference lists to locate other articles, books, or authors who have written on the same topic. 
#2 Find an appropriate search tool. Consider your subject matter, discipline of study, type of information needed (e.g. peer reviewed articles) Locate citing and cited by literature to view how this source fits into the scholarly conversation AND to track down additional sources.

#3 Start with a simple search based on your key concepts. Tip: You may also have to look at literature that refers to one (not all) aspects of your research question.

Browse the table of contents of relevant journals and special issues.

#4 Use specific search strategies.

  • Use AND to join dissimilar terms.
  • Use OR to join synonyms or related terms.
  • Truncate words with * to pick up variations of that word. 
  • Use "quotation marks" for phrase searching
  • Use database limiters e.g. limit to scholarly journals. 
  • Consider searching in a specific field e.g. title (article title) or source (journal title.)
Locate an expert in the field and browse their publications.  
#5 Search and skim results. Look for the language and terms that researchers use and that the database assigns to articles; identify and search or refine your results using subject headings.  
#6 Switch up your searches.  Use promising new terminologyYour search may become more sophisticated.  

1. Tentative Research Question

2. Search Terms: Main Concepts,  Related Keywords, Variables & Measurements

The main concepts in your research question are your first set of search terms.  You will likely need to add synonyms,  related, broader or narrower terms to your search; also consider search terms related to your variables or measurements. 

A series of searches with different search terms will help you retrieve a range of relevant research so you can address the various aspects of your literature review. List some potential search terms below.


3. Consider the sources or evidence will you need to support your project.

Are there specific perspectives you want to include? What databases or search tools are most relevant to the types of sources or evidence you need? 

4. Try a practice search in Sociological Abstracts or another database with your search terms.

Based on skimming articles titles and text, what other terminology is related to your search terms? Any relevant subject headings?  What other terminology could you use in future searches?   

  • View the article’s references. Do any of these articles look relevant? 
  • View the article’s citing articles. Do any of these articles look relevant? 

5. Scholars or Experts 

Are scholars or experts mentioned in the text of the articles you are reading or are they the authors of the article?  Can you identify who are the  expert researchers in this area? Are you seeing the same authors appear in your search results?


6. Repeat & Next Steps

What are your next steps? How might you revise your search to obtain more relevant sources or, to address the different components of your literature review?

A "literature review" can refer to your final product (part of a paper/ article or a stand-alone publication) and describes the process of conducting the review. 

" of the first steps in planning a research project is to do a literature review: that is, to trawl through all the available information sources to track down the latest knowledge, and to assess it for relevance, quality, controversy and gaps. 

The review can be used to show where you have gained inspiration to develop your should also demonstrate you have a good understanding of the current conceptual frameworks in your subject, and that you can take a stance in placing your work within these."


A literature review includes: 

  1. Research theory & philosophy - to establish the intellectual context(s) of research related to your topic/ research question. 
  2. History of developments in your subject - to trace the background to present day thinking.
  3. Latest research and developments in your subject - to inform and practice, to discuss the conflicting arguments, and to detect a gap in knowledge.
  4. Research methods - to explore practical techniques that have been used, particularly those that might be relevant to your project. 

From Walliman, Nicholas. 2018. Research Methods : the Basics. Second edition. Abingdon, Oxon.

What Makes a Successful Literature Review?

  1. Search terms: Formulate appropriate search terms as the basis for your literature searches.
  2. Database search tools: Use database search tools to identify relevant journal articles and related materials.
  3. Key publications: Identify a series of key publications in your area and use these as the bases for citation reference searches.
  4. Additional search tools: Use search tools to identify pieces of interest, in particular grey literature, relevant to you (e.g. Google Scholar.)
  5. Scanning: Scan abstracts of articles, reviews of books, executive summaries of government reports, and other summaries of published work to determine if you need to read the piece in full.
  6. Reading: Read the pieces you have identified and make notes from them. A synthesis grid may be useful for note taking and for facilitating writing the review.
  7. Thematic organization: Use these notes as the basis of a thematic organization of your literature review.
    • Note, a chronological or methodological organization may align better with your research question.
  8. Writing the review: Write the review, based on your organizational framework, in such a way that you can construct one or more interesting research questions which you will address in your investigation.

From Byrne, D. (2017). What makes a successful literature review?. Project Planner. 10.4135/9781526408518.