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Homepage / Systematic Literature Review – Selecting your sources

Systematic Literature Review – Selecting your sources


books open on a desk

In our previous systematic literature review post we identified some background reading for getting started and showed you how to find other systematic literature reviews to help you understand what is required and how reviews should be structured and written up.

Before undertaking your systematic literature review you should already have undertaken a broad survey of the literature to help you understand the scope of the field and where your research fits.  This will have helped you to refine your research question and also identified the keywords describing the concepts and topics which you need to investigate in more depth.

Now you’re ready to get started. In order to retrieve the relevant literature for your systematic review you will need to:

  • Select the sources which you need to search
  • Identify your search terms and construct your search strings
  • Decide on your search strategies (how you are going to combine your search strings).

This post looks at the first of these areas.

Selecting your sources

When carrying out your research you may need to look at all types of documents depending on your topic, including books, theses, conference papers, reports, working papers and other ‘grey literature’.  However, none of these can be searched in the same systematic way as journal articles.

Journal articles are the unit of currency for academic research, as this is where academics publish their first research findings. Conferences are where the ideas are first presented but generally academics are looking for feedback and may then refine the ideas before they publish their findings in article form.

Journal articles can be found in both subject (aggregator) databases, and in publisher specific services.  To help you decide which sources to select, see our table below of the key subject and publisher databases.

 Subject Databases  Publisher Databases
 ABI/Inform (ProQuest) *  Science Direct
 EBSCO (Business Source Complete) *  Emerald
 Google Scholar  Wiley
 SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network)  Blackwell
 PsycINFO (for psychology related sources)*  Taylor & Francis
 SCOPUS *  Sage
Web of Science * Springer

The * indicates those sources which can be searched systematically i.e. by entering and combining complex search strings.

Generally speaking the subject databases should include citations for articles in the publisher databases, e.g. Emerald is entirely indexed in ABI/Inform.  However, if you think you are missing articles by not searching the publisher databases or your supervisor recommends that you search using a specific website, then do use these.  The choice is yours!

Next steps…

Other blog posts you may find useful:

As always, if you have any questions on the systematic review or on any other area of your research, please do not hesitate to contact MIRC.

Feature image from Pixabay

Mary Betts-Gray

Written By: Cranfield University

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