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A review of the literature is important for a research project because it enables you to acquire an understanding of your topic, with its key issues, and an awareness of relevant research that has already been conducted. Exploring and selecting from the vast array of published information can be a time-consuming task, so it is important to know how to plan and carry out this work effectively. The aim of this guide is to help you to do this. You need to work systematically through the following stages.
1. Define topic.
Clarify the meaning of the topic and/or particular words. Dictionaries relating to the subject may be useful here.
2. Decide on scope and boundary
If the area/topic is a large one you may need to choose a specific aspect. Bear in mind any resources constraints like time; support available; library resources; and the length of the paper to be written.
3. Define topic in terms of "keywords"
Define your topic in terms of words to search for in the various information sources.
Think of words that may be used as alternatives for your topic e.g. barrage and dam. Some computer-based information sources include a thesaurus of terms known as "descriptors" which help you to do this. Think about alternative meanings and contexts for your keywords and try to think of ways of combining words to ensure that only the meaning you want is retrieved - words such as system and network will need special care and even more precise words like mouse and icon now have more than one meaning. Think of alternative spellings, particularly American ones, e.g. colour or color, aluminium or aluminum and of possible truncations e.g. behavio* will retrieve behavior, behaviour, behavioral and behavioural. Think of possible changes in terminology when looking for older materials. These can be due to the development of a more technical vocabulary e.g. tuberculosis for consumption, to social changes e.g. firefighter rather than fireman and to changes in what is considered appropriate language e.g. visually-impaired rather than blind. Bear in mind the name-changes of places and countries, such as Peking/Beijing, Persia/Iran, and of the emergence of many new countries in the last few years. Look at ways to link your keywords. Do you want records which contain all of your keywords or are some alternatives; do you want to relate two words so that they are near each other; can you focus your search by excluding words which might appear with other words you are searching for but in a different context? How you do this and what options are available vary between databases so it is important that you familiarise yourself with the way each one works by using the on-screen links and help system. Some databases require that you enter your search in one go, so that it is important that you get the "grammar" right, in others you can build up a complex search via a series of simple searches. There is no consistency between databases so even if you are doing a very simple search you need to check out each database. For example, the default settings vary so that if you type in neural
shef. "Database searching: a basic guide. or from most Library Enquiry Desks. gender of the subjects? 5. 4.html. 6.html. As well as the help offered on screen. they supply links to some of the resources increasingly available on the Internet. Sources may be print-based or computer-based.ac. 6. These guides are available on LibWebat http://www. If the resource you are using has a thesaurus or other listing of descriptor.uk/library/libdocs/mlrs12.ac.do you want to limit your search to material relating to a particular country or other geographical area or to limit it to information on a particular period? country of publication . There are many subject-specific guides to resources in the Library and on the Internet.• networks.c Record all useful references. This makes a great difference to the number and relevance of the results received. Start with the most recent publications and work back.ac.e. some databases will search for this as a phrase i. others will retrieve records containing both words anywhere in the record.shef. and the terms used.html or from Library Enquiry Desks. Set limitations to your search • • • • • • publication date . You must be registered with the Corporate Information and Computing Services and have read their documentation on file management. The specific thesaurus of terms for each database will be useful here. The useful references should be recorded from print-based sources or marked and downloaded from .uk/library/libdocs/atof.b Keep a record of your searches An essential part of literature searching is keeping accurate.g. All networked sources will require basic IT skills. one source may index material under universities another may use higher education.is it appropriate to limit your search to languages you can read yourself? geographical or time scope .uk/library/libdocs/docssub. Conduct your searches 6. copying to disc and email. These should include the years of every print-based and electronic database searched. relate the keywords list that you compiled at stage 3 to the descriptors used by each source.shef. More general help in using electronic resources can be found in the Library guide. 6. there are also guides to many of the services at http://www. for example in a such as age. will only retrieve records where the words appear together. e.a Search through each source/database.what types of publication or documentation do you wish to include? language .how far back do you want to search? range . As well as providing information about how to obtain material relevant to your subject. printing.do you want only material published in a particular country or range of countries? are there any other limitations. Draw up a list of sources/databases in which to search for references. consistent and correct records." available on LibWeb at http://www.
superseded. Some bibliographical databases have links to the full-text of the articles. the use of the Harvard citation system is recommended.shef.6! Assess the value of the search in terms of relevance and usefulness. you will have to check Star to see if the Library stocks the items you require.c will help you enormously here when deadlines are looming! A brief guide to "Writing a bibliography" is available on LibWeb at http://www. and irrelevant material. For others.uk/library/useful/refs.and repeat stages 3 . it's quality. Write your paper Writing needs to be accompanied by a properly formatted bibliography.html or from the Library Enquiry Desks. Consult your supervisor for the recommended style. Be wary of out of date.ac. URL: http://www. In most cases. Have you found material which is likely to be relevant to your topic? If there seems to be too much or too little. not quantity of references that counts. however.ac. Help can be found on LibWebon all aspects of recording. Bear in mind constraints of delivery time and resources in relation to your deadline. The care you took at stage 6. 7. 10. Obtain copies of promising references. 8. Some Departments provide a handout. Review progress after searching 4 or so sources. they may be obtained via Inter-Library Loans.electronic databases either to your own file on u: or to disc on a: A detailed record of everything useful you find will enable you to provide an accurate bibliography at the end of your project.uk/library/libdocs/ml-rs11.ac. citing and presenting references at http://www. You need to become familiar with citation systems.shef. Read them! Requires assessment.html . discrimination and judgement.sheffield. You should also seek guidance from you tutors as to how many references you are expected to use.html.uk/library/libdocs/ml-rs17. but check the likely value of your reference before ordering. If not. 9. though usually only to journals for which the Library has a separate subscription. you may need to redefine your topic . Leave some time between readings for thought and note-taking.
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