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Education - Literature Reviews

This guide outlines the purpose and process of a literature review and explains how to create search terms for conducting research on your topic.


As you start thinking about collecting literature to further explore your research question, keep in mind that all publications have a present, past, and future.

  • You can think of the present moment of a given publication as the moment it was published. This, however, means that when you find a paper published some time ago, you are gaining access only to content available at the time of publication.
  • Once you find a paper relevant to your topic, you can citation mine the paper for additional resources. Looking at the references used in the paper (this is called citation mining), you are likely to find other relevant articles. When you citation mine, you are essentially looking into the paper's past as all the sources utilized in the paper are publications that came before.
  • To look into the future, or to see what has happened with the article you found post-publication, you can check to see who has mentioned or cited the paper since publication. This allows you to see what work on that topic has been going on after the paper you discovered was published.

Searching for Literature


Great places to find what scholarship is informing the articles you’re finding are the articles themselves. If you find a resource that is highly relevant to your research topic, chances are that the "works cited" or bibliography of the paper you have discovered will list other highly relevant resources. So do not forget to always check the paper's references as that will often yield additional resources for your literature review. This process is sometimes referred to as "citation mining."

Another great place for citation mining is other people's theses and dissertations. This is because all theses and dissertations should include a literature review. So if you can find a thesis or dissertation that is highly relevant to you topic, you will also find a gold mine of references that are likely to be highly relevant to your research question.


There are two quick ways to find theses and dissertations on your topic:

The first way is to do a search for your topic in Primo (the Library Search Box) and then limit by Item Type to Dissertations. This filter limits your search to both Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations.

* For easier viewing, click on "full screen" as that will make the video larger and easier to see


The second way is to search the Theses & Dissertation Databases directly. Your best bet for most subject areas is going to be the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database.

* For easier viewing, click on "full screen" as that will make the video larger and easier to see


Once an article is published, its content usually stops changing (unless the publication is dynamic and updated periodically, as is the case with some resources published on websites). Most published articles do not get updated, which means that if you are reading a paper from 1984, you are exposed to the state of affairs of that particular year, along with all the biases, language, currency of knowledge, etc. of that time period. This does not, however, mean that the publication itself is static. Things still continue to happen to the article: other scholars read it, are influenced by it, critique it, and often cite it in their own (future) work.

This means that if you ever find a great article that is somewhat dated, citation mining will not be the best way of finding more recent articles relevant to your topic. You can, however, take a look at who has cited the article since it was published! Chances are that some of the articles that cite the resource will be works dealing with a question relevant to your own research topic. So if you find a great article, but it's a bit out of date and your searches are not revealing any more recent papers on your topic, you can always take a look at who else has mentioned the paper you've discovered. 

A great tool for checking who else has cited a paper is Google Scholar.

Here is how to do this:

  • Find the article you discovered using Google Scholar
  • Click on the "Cited By" Link
  • This link will take you to a list of papers that have mentioned your article (all of which will be more recent than the original paper, and some of which may be highly relevant to your topic)

* For easier viewing, click on "full screen" as that will make the video larger and easier to see


Your go-to databases for most of your education research are:

  • ERIC
  • Education Research Complete
  • Academic Search Complete (this is an interdisciplinary database)
  • PsycINFO (for educational psychology)

You can find a list of databases ideal for education scholarship here: EDUCATION DATABASES