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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Information related to the research, reading, writing and practice of SoTL.

Literature Review Preparation Worksheet

Hold your Horses! Laying the Ground Work.


  • An important first step is to take your topic (whether it is for a grant application, or another project), and form it into an answerable question.
  • This step is an important one to tackle right away. Not only does creating an answerable and specific question on your topic provide you clarity, it also helps you more quickly go through database results.
  • ex. Topic: flipped classrooms in a 100-level basketweaving course
  • ex. Question: Does a flipped classroom approach for Basketweaving 101 "Traditional Materials" improve students demonstration of deep learning about traditional materials in their oral final exams?


  • The scope is important to also establish prior to beginning your search.
  • Do you only need a couple of seminal works? Some niche pieces of scholarship?
  • Are you conducting a scoping, rapid, or even a full scale systematic review? These have specific processes associated with them.


  • Your literature review IS data collection. This is an academic, thoughtful process.
  • Are there certain methodologies or study designs that you need, or would reject?
  •  Systematic reviews require inclusion and exclusion criteria be established in advance for methodological rigor
  • Is there a specific date range that you need information from? Ie. prior to 1980, or only from the past 5 years?
  • If you're not preparing a systematic review, be flexible. Searching is iterative.


  • Brainstorm some words (commonly called keywords) that you think encapsulates elements of your question
  • Think of synonyms and consider what other areas of research might refer to your topic/question
  • Keyword searching is an iterative process. The more you read, the more you will uncover new words to use in your search (this is especially true if you're new to your topic!)
  • Consider preparing words with suffix variances in advance. You don't need to search for "teacher" and "teaching" seperately - just search for "teach*". This step requires some care - ensure you're truncating at the correct spot in the word!


  • While increasingly sophisticated, databases cannot return papers with perfect logical and contextual accuracy without a lot of help from the human on the other side of the screen
  • Feed the database a search string that makes sense to it
  • We think of our research question as having related elements, but that's not how a database interprets our question
  • Distinct concepts of a search string are AND'd together. Synonyms are OR'd together
  • Example: Does increasing sleep improve students long term memory function?
  • Sleep, students, and long term memory are all distinctly separate topics to a database - so we AND them
  • Imagine ORing "sleep", "students", "long term memory"! You'd get back a ton of results because you are telling the database that you will accept the return of ANY papers discussing the above keywords
  • However, if you AND'd "sleep", "students", "long term memory" the database has to work really hard to attempt to retrieve papers that discuss all 3 concepts - the result is much fewer papers retrieved for you

Next Steps


  • Consider our earlier example on the Basketweaving 101 course.
  • The obvious choice would be search in journals and databases that contain higher education basketweaving information 
  • But what if you're not finding enough? Perhaps the SoTL work in basketweaving is just up and coming and scholars have not done a ton of publishing in this area. What do you do?
  • You read outside your discipline! Get ready to open your mind to different methodologies and study designs. While sometimes uncomfortable, consider the value and the contribution of other scholars.
  • What interdisciplinary concepts does our example involve?  Well, it's a weaving course, so there are elements of design and creativity (Fine Arts, Design/Architecture, Materials/Fabrication etc). The course is about traditional materials (Anthropology, Indigenous Studies etc) so exploring research in related disciplines would be advised. The students are going to be engaged in a flipped classroom approach and are delivering their final exam orally - what departments on your campus have tried this out (English, Philosophy, Biology etc).


  • Consider your context, and what are the implications for grounding your literature review in certain topics or areas of research? Does it matter? Why or why not? See: inclusion and exclusion criteria AND directions on grant application
  • Are there researchers in a geographical region that are pioneers in your topic? Can this be generalized, or translated to a local context? 
  • Are you limiting your topic and subsequent search to higher education only? What are the implications for including grade school materials?
  • Are you able to demonstrate that you can find literature that is grounded in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning? Do the articles you are recovering priorize the investigation and evidence of student learning?

Organizing Your Approach

  • Try using Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive etc for real time edits on team documents
  • If using a static system like Dropbox, U of C drives, consider a file naming convention (descriptive name, date year month day, initials). ex. GrantProposalDraft20161216CSM.docx
  • Keep track of your search strings in a document detailing what you searched and what your results were, and what articles you chose
  • Alternatively, to really save time, create an account in databases where you can save your searches to re-running or editing at a later date! Create an account and share the password with your team members so they can log in.
  • Don't waste time hand copying citations into excel or word! Use Mendeley, Zotero or pick up Endnote from the Microstore. All are fairly straightforward to use to store and retrieve citations, cite while you write and create works cited lists

Where to begin searching?

  • Search for known items (name of database..incl. Google Scholar, title of book) in the search box on the main library page
  • Use the Subject Guides tab (on teal banner on any library website) and use the drop down menu to search for subject specific databases at the U of C library (hint: great approach for searching outside your discipline)
  • On the Subject Guides page, search a key word (SoTL, Mendeley, literature review) in "search subject guides" box to find librarian-created research guides