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Literature searching

1. What exactly is a literature search?

A literature search is in essence a detailed and organised search for work that has been done in your field of interest. The results are carefully recorded, and the searches themselves should be reproducible.

Broadly speaking, post-graduate and academic research is a source-driven process, and it is likely that during the course of your work you will make use of a greater range of information formats than previously. The picture below indicates some of the source materials you may encounter, although exactly what you use will be determined by your subject. 


It is also the case that the applied nature of certain areas of study and research means that our information needs will often extend beyond scholarly, peer-reviewed academic literature to include professional/vocational information, publications and services.

The tables below highlight the important differences between academic information and professional or vocational information:

Academic Information

 

What is it?

Published academic information. Based on either original research or experimentation, or on secondary research in the form of reviews or summaries. Includes footnotes and/or a bibliography and may include graphs or charts and other supplementary material such as data tables.

 

Author

Written by someone with a recognised degree of authority in a particular field, typically an academic or researcher.

 

Audience

Read and used by other experts in a particular field, including students of a recognised academic discipline.

 

Format

Produced in print and electronic formats.

 

Publisher

Published by an academic association or a university/academic press.

 

Purpose

Advances study and research by reporting new findings or ideas; also increases the author’s authority and credentials in the field.

 

Quality control

Usually subject to the peer-review process - i.e. other academics, researchers or specialists working in a particular discipline evaluate the quality and originality of the research as a precondition of publication.

 

Examples

Examples of academic information are scholarly, peer-reviewed journals such as:

Annals of Biomedical Engineering

The Lancet

Harvard International Law Journal

Past & Present

Professional/Vocational Information

 

What is it?

 

Professional/vocational includes industry news and analysis; product and market information; news about technical developments, materials and processes; reviews of software.

 

Author

 

Written by a member of a profession or industry but not necessarily a researcher.

 

Audience

Read and used by members of a particular profession or field.

 

Format

Produced in print and electronic formats

 

Publisher

 

Published by independent commercial publishers and companies.

 

Purpose

Informs, promotes and generally strengthens the profession, and enhances knowledge of current professional practice

 

Quality control

No formal evaluation of professional vocational information, but information from professional bodies is likely to be good quality up to date and relevant.

 

Examples

Examples of professional/vocational information include the following:

Engineering Industries Association

British Medical Association

London Mathematical Society

The Poetry Society


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