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The Literature Review. The Importance of the Literature Review in Research.

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The LiteratureReview

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The Importance of the Literature Review in Research

Borg & Gall (1989) state, “Although the importance of a thorough review of the literature is obvious to everyone, this task is more frequently slighted than any other phase of research…Often the insights gained through the review will save as much time in conducting the research as the review itself required.”

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Why Review the Literature?

to identify gaps in the literature

to avoid reinventing the wheel (at the very least this will save time and it can stop you from making the same mistakes as others)

to carry on from where others have already reached (reviewing the field allows you to build on the platform of existing knowledge and ideas)

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Why Review the Literature?

to identify other people working in the same fields (a researcher network is a valuable resource)

to increase your breadth of knowledge of your subject area

to identify seminal works in your area

to provide the intellectual context for your own work, enabling you to position your project relative to other work

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Why Review the Literature?

to identify opposing views

to put your work into perspective

to demonstrate that you can access previous work in an area

to identify information and ideas that may be relevant to your project

to identify methods that could be relevant to your project

Source: Bourner, T. (1996) 'The research process: four steps to success', in Greenfield, T. (ed), Research methods: guidance for postgraduates, Arnold, London.

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Era 1 in Literature Reviews

Go to the library, look in paper indexes,locate the journal and read it

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Era 2 in Literature Reviews

Go to the library, use a dedicated computer with an index located on CD, locate the journal and read it

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Era 3in Literature Reviews

Use your home computer, access indexes electronically, if the journal is not on-line, go to the library, locate the journal and read it.

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How to Find Information

Go to the Library and wander around

Not the most efficient but interesting

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Finding Information

Use electronic indexes

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Approaches to the Lit Review

Start with more global secondary sources



Handbooks of Research

Scholarly books

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Examples of Secondary Sources

The Encyclopedia of Educational Research – a four volume set that looks at various facets of education. Most entries have detailed bibliographies.

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Additional Secondary Sources

Handbook of Research on ______


Early Childhood Education

Educational Administration

Language Development


Math Teaching and Learning

Multicultural Education

Music Teaching and Learning

Science Teaching

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Additional Secondary Sources

Review of Research in Education – Published annually, generally focuses on 2-3 areas

Review of Educational Research – published quarterly, contains latest research, has extensive bibliography

Scholarly books in the area of your interest

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Primary Sources

Original works (journal articles, research papers)

More current than secondary sources

Specialized indexes are used to find the articles.

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Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)

Established in 1966 by the U.S. Department of Education

Sixteen different clearinghouses review and summarize research

One clearinghouse focuses on just adult, career and vocational education

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CIJE (Current Index to Journals in Education)

Over 900 educational journals are indexed.

This is published in hard copy and electronically.

RIE (Resources in Education)

Non-journal documents

Research conference papers

Technical reports

Curriculum projects

RIE is published in hard copy and electronically

Produces two major products:

These documents are called fugitive literature or gray literature because they are not widely disseminated or easy to obtain!

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Searching ERIC

It might be wise to spend a few minutes looking at the ERIC Thesaurus to find the terms used to catalog items before searching.

For example “teaching effectiveness” is not a term used, but “teacher effectiveness” is.

It is best to start broad and then narrow the search by using “and” in your searches.

“agricultural education” and “teacher effectiveness”

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Searching ERIC

You can search by title, key terms, author, journal name, etc.

Most indexes allow similar searches

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Finding ERIC Documents

Journal articles can be found in the journals in which the were published (CIJE)

Other documents have a ED number such as ED131188. This refers to a microfiche that can be retrieved and read at the NCSU or other major university libraries using a microfiche reader.

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This is the Basic Search Screen in ERIC via the NCSU library

Type in subject you are looking for here.

You can limit search to a specific journal here.

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A Word to the Wise Educator’s Reference Desk


There are basic and advanced search screens in ERIC

The Search Interface for ERIC may vary some depending upon how you access ERIC

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ERIC Access Points Educator’s Reference Desk

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AGRICOLA Educator’s Reference Desk

AGRICOLA (AGRICultural OnLine Access) is a bibliographic database of citations to the agricultural literature created by the National Agricultural Library and its cooperators. Production of these records in electronic form began in 1970, but the database covers materials in all formats, including printed works from the 15th century.

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AGRICOLA Educator’s Reference Desk

The records describe publications and resources encompassing all aspects of agriculture and allied disciplines, including animal and veterinary sciences, entomology, plant sciences, forestry, aquaculture and fisheries, farming and farming systems, agricultural economics, extension and education, food and human nutrition, and earth and environmental sciences.

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AGRICOLA Educator’s Reference Desk

Contains journal articles, extension publications, experiment station documents, and similar resources.

There is a little overlap between ERIC and AGRICOLA in agricultural and extension education.

It is better to have an overlap than a gap.

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An AGRICOLA search through the NCSU Library Educator’s Reference Desk

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Agricola Access Points Educator’s Reference Desk

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Dissertation Abstracts International Educator’s Reference Desk

Nearly all doctoral dissertations written in North America are indexed in DAI.

You can search by topic, author, university, topic and several other terms.

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Please note the search fields! Educator’s Reference Desk

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DAI Access Points Educator’s Reference Desk

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Some Dissertations Educator’s Reference Desk (these are real)

Life's Little Problems...and Pleasures: Watching Soap Operas

Electrical Measurements on Cuticles of the American Cockroach

Determinants of Flossing Behavior in the College Age Population

Classification of Drinking Styles Using the Topographical Components of Beer Drinking

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More Dissertations Educator’s Reference Desk

Garage Sales as Practice: Ideologies of Women, Work, and Community in Daily Life

Finger Painting and Personality Diagnosis

Communication Use in the Motorcycle Gang

Ritual Drama in American Culture: The Case of Professional Wrestling

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Even More Dissertations Educator’s Reference Desk

An Adaptive Surfing Apparatus

I Am You, You Are Me: A Philosophical Explanation of the Possibility That We Are All the Same Person

Jock and Jill: Aspects of Women's Sports History in America

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The Education Index Educator’s Reference Desk

If you are looking for articles published prior to 1981 you may need to go to the library and use a paper index titled “The Education Index”. Most electronic indexes have not gone back in time to index the earlier journals.

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Some Hints Educator’s Reference Desk

Once you find an article that is helpful, look at the references in that article and track some of those down.

Once you find an article, look at the various descriptors in the search window and make note of those descriptors.

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Documenting your References Educator’s Reference Desk

Some examples of APA

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Documentation Educator’s Reference Desk

In Agricultural and Extension Education we use the APA Publication Manual.

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In the Body of the Text Educator’s Reference Desk

Citations in the text of your paper list the author and date of the works you used in your research.

These references are brief but should give enough information to enable the reader to find the full citation in the references list at the end of the paper.

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Examples Educator’s Reference Desk

The most pressing issue threatening gorilla survival is the lack of support for gorilla conservation among government officials and local resident groups (Garen, 2000).

Schaller (1963) stresses that rotational agriculture, which promotes the growth of secondary forest, is strong factor in providing favorable habitat for gorillas.

Taken from

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Reference Examples Educator’s Reference Desk

Agnew, C. & Anderson, E.W. (1992). Water

resources in the arid realm. New York:


Weil, D. (2006). The corporate blogging book:

Absolutely everything you need to know to get it

right. New York: Portfolio.

Augustine, S., & Greene, C. (2002). Discovering how

students search a library web site:  A usability

case study. College & Research Libraries, 63 (4),

354 - 365.