Five Techniques to Review Related Literature

A well written, comprehensive and logical literature review demonstrates good scholarship. But many students usually find themselves with only a few articles to figure out their research topic. How will they approach this problem? Here are five techniques to review related literature.

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The past month had been a hectic one for me as I adjust to my new schedule after a long leave from academic work. I need to handle subjects which require intensive gathering of materials for both syllabus preparation as well as lecture sessions. I was assigned two classes of third year undergraduate students enrolled in Research 01, many of whom have not had any experience on doing research in their high school years. As I introduce the subject to them, bug-eyed students wonder on what the heck I was talking about. Honing research skills such that students are able to do independent research poses a challenge to anyone handling this subject. proved to be a useful site for them, as I encouraged them to visit the site and learn the ropes of research. They were just glad to read something from someone they are familiar with, and even get that opportunity to ask me personally about their concerns. They need not surf and spend so much time online just to get some ideas useful in working out their thesis.

I asked them to come up with their respective topics, that is, related to their respective fields. This is not easy as it would require a lot of observations and readings to pin down what specific topics they are interested in. To narrow down their frame of mind on what specific topics they need to look into, I gave them the university’s research agenda to guide them along the way. These agenda include climate change concerns for those enrolled in environmental science and alternative approaches to common ailments for those taking biology.

To get a better view of the topics the students are interested in within the agenda mentioned, they should read related literature about those topics. So how should they go about it? Below are five tips that can prove helpful.

Five Techniques to Review Literature

1. Visit open access journals.

One of my favorite open access site where I can download literature on many topics in environmental science is In this site, there are full papers available for free download. You just need to be patient as you browse the site using your keyword. Elsevier also has a list of open access journals here.

There are many other open access journals if you have the time and the patience to do surfing. While these may be free, you will notice that your choices are limited. And you also need to be aware that there are open access journals which are predatory, meaning, it seeks to exploit or oppress others. Beal provides a comprehensive list of these questionable journals. It will always help if you read some reviews before spending your valuable time on those listed, especially if you intend to publish your research output.


If you have no better choice and can spend ample time to look for those articles which you believe can help you develop your research topic, open access journals are the default choice at least for a start. Verify if your library has paid subscriptions to popular scientific journals which offer more choices. This will cut down time for you to be able to understand current research and establish the state of the art.

 2. Ask a professor for copies of their article collections.

One MS student approached me the other day asking if I have literature on community based resource management. Indeed, her inquiry bore fruit as I subscribe to a biannual environmental science journal. I lent her six issues and she was so grateful for the help.

Don’t hesitate to approach someone who might be working on something similar to your line of interest. Almost always, there’s a pile of literature he can share with you so you can quickly browse the topics.

3. Join sites where scientific articles are shared.

One of the growing websites that many scientists join is A colleague reminded me that is a good source of scientific articles, because some generous scientists upload and share their articles for everyone to peek into and possibly include in their list of related literature. You may also write those scientists who might be interested in your proposed investigation. I uploaded an article in portable document format (PDF) myself and I noticed high traffic on that single article alone. Now, boasts 7,133,903 member researchers.

4. Visit relevant government offices.

A trip to government offices who usually have mini-libraries store information on office programs, projects, and activities plus other informative materials for public use can help you enhance the quality of information in your study area’s profile. Statistics on demographics, detailed maps, and recent public service initiatives are commonly found in these offices.

Research is meant to improve the quality of human life, and the government is tasked to provide welfare to the general public. Thus, you can orient your research to address issues and problems that were already identified in such government offices.

If your study is about the environment, then the sensible choice is the environment agency of the government. You can help improve on or enhance current environmental policy using identified issues and concern on the environment as government employees interact directly with local communities. Surely, your research will be appreciated by policy makers.

5. Replicate yourself.

Why do the literature by yourself when you can engage the help of others — for a fee, of course. I did this when I was conceptualizing my research topic. I learned that there was a group of graduate students who offered to do the literature review for a fixed rate. They do all the legwork, i.e., scrounging the libraries and finding relevant materials based on my set of keywords and problem statement. That surely saved me a lot of time while I narrow down my research topic using my collection of related literature. The added material will strengthen my arguments and/or redefine the direction of my investigation.

If you prefer to do things online, see the most common types of sources in a research paper.

© 2014 February 17 P. A. Regoniel

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