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Writing Literature Reviews (for Grads)

How to Cite Properly

Not sure how to cite the work of others in your reports or writing? Avoid plagiarism and refer to these helpful resources:

Writing Literature Reviews

Whether you are writing a literature review for your undergraduate dissertation, a masters thesis, or any other piece of scholarly work, the basic principles are the same. Below are some tips and links to some websites on writing literature reviews, which you might find helpful:

  1. Be clear about the purpose of this literature review. Is it to help you formulate or justify a research question? Is it to survey the current state of knowledge on a particular topic? Is it to identify gaps in knowledge?
  2. Skim read LOTS of ‘literature’…. Read in detail (and over and over if you need to) the most relevant stuff.
  3. Follow the chain of citations back to the original source. Almost all of the sources you pull will themselves cite former work. With DOI
  4. Take advantage of your librarians at your University! DO NOT go back to your supervisor or instructor claiming you ‘could’t find anything on your topic’! Go see your librarian and I can guarantee you will find something. Once you find the right search terms, the right journals where your topic is being published in and the right authors (experts in your field), you’ll have more sources than you know what to do with!
  5. Make sure you know what a literature review is and what it should contain (if my 5 minute crash course was too little too quick, try the links below).
  6. Include the DOI (digital object identifier) if one exists in your bibliography. This will make it possible for others who read your work to easily locate the article again on the web.
The following links highlight the basic content of a literature review:

Bibliographic Managers

There are a wide variety of bibliography and citation managers now available (e.g. EndNoteProCiteReference ManagerZotero, etc). This Wikipedia entry is the best comparison of reference management software I've seen. Many of these allow simple and easy downloading of citations from Journals, Library Catalogs and the major scholarly literature search engines (e.g. Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar). Unfortunately, some of the more feature-rich and useful of these programs are commercial software packages that cost between $50 and $300. EndNote is probably the most popular and a student version runs between $95 and $115. For Firefox users, Zotero is a fantastic, free and easy to use Bibliography manager. 

One of the most useful features a citation manager can have is the ability to 'cite while your write' in your word processor of choice. This allows you to just click a button in your own document, select the publication(s) you wish to cite, and it inserts them for you and builds a self-updating bibliography at the end of your document. You don't worry about formatting, as this is just an option and can be changed to any standard you prefer. Unfortunately, this functionality is best in some of the commercial programs (e.g. EndNoteProCiteReference Manager). If you are working in LaTeXBibTex and several GUI-front-end packages (e.g..BibDeskJabRef) do provide free alternatives, but LaTeX is not a what-you-see-is-what-you-get word processor. Some citations managers (e.g. EndNote X4) now allow you to create references by simply importing a PDF (so long as they have a DOI).

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