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Conducting a Literature Review: FAQ/Help


Q: How many sources do I need?

A: This is a challenging question. Has your instructor told you how many are required? If the research question is very narrow, there may only be 10-15 sources, if it's broader -- or been studied over a long period of time -- it could be vast. 

Q: How do I know if it's a "good" article?

A. In Social Work, you can use sources like Oxford Bibliographies Online: Social Work to get a good overview of a field. Experts are asked to write on different topics, and to choose articles and books that they think are especially important in those areas. Using academic databases (such as Social Services Abstracts, PsycInfo, Ethnic News Watch, ERIC and many more) lets you restrict to those that are peer reviewed. Many of the databases also let you see how many time the article has been cited within their platform -- or you can see how many times it's been cited in Google Scholar. Examine the methods -- what is the article based on? And who is the author -- are they respected in their field?

Q: How do I know I've found the core resources?

A.: Your instructor can help identify experts in the field -- seeing the work they have done, who they have cited and who has cited them, is very helpful.  And if you want to have an in-depth look at a topic, the bibliographies in Dissertations and Theses can be a helpful supplement to searching for books and articles.

Q: How do I know when I've found enough?

A: Another hard question -- but often once you find many articles/books on your topic, you begin to see that they are citing each other.  I think finding these citation circles in the sources is a good indicator that you are ready to write the literature review. 


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Susan Edwards
Social Research Library
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720