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Research & Applications MSED/MSOD

Strategies and tips for locating resources for your literature review project.

Source Evaluation

Some resources are better than others.

I know that we are trained or taught to consider things equally, and that's not a bad thing.  However, once you've started on your literature review, you  will come to the conclusion that it's okay to be picky and it's okay to state that something doesn't measure up.  The literature review project that you are working on is definitely the time to be picky, selective, critical, particular, finicky and fussy!  The better your sources, the better your analysis, the better your final project will be.

Below you will find lists, tips and a series of videos that will help you to evaluate sources. 

As always, if you have questions, please feel free to reach out to us in the library and we will be delighted to help you.

What to Look For

Ideally you are looking for original research studies that have been published in academic, peer-reviewed journals or by a reliable academic book publisher. These have been designated as the "Gold Standard" by your instructor.

There are many sources readily searchable or available online.  We recommend using the library's subscription databases and catalogs to search for the resources you use for your literature review.  We recommend them for several reasons, but the most relevant reasons for you, as a graduate student, are that:

  • your search results tend to be more reliable
  • your search results are returned in an unbiased list
  • no ads or sales features are included on the search screens or results lists
  • they have been created and designed to aid researchers in searching
  • you have access, at no charge, to millions of research articles covering all disciplines

You will most likely also have results beyond the research based articles and books.  Industry magazines and periodicals, newspapers, trade publications, and questionable publishers can also be found in the research databases.  However, there are simple ways that you can work to eliminate these from your search results altogether or quickly dismiss the irrelevant and unwanted.

Students often become frustrated while searching databases because they equate it with searching Google or another search engine.  Unfortunately, assumptions like this can cause students to assume that they can't find what they're looking for or it just doesn't exist.  Searching the databases in the same way that you search Google is ineffective.  Please use the videos and tips we've listed on this guide to ensure you have a more successful searching experience.


Peer-review is essentially a quality control process.  After a researcher or scholar completes a research study they write their findings in a prescribed scholarly format (such as APA or Turabian) and submit their manuscript to one or more scholarly journals.  The editorial board for the journal reviews the article.  The editorial board is typically made up of acknowledged experts in a field of study or in a professional organization, and this group is considered the "peer" group for the researcher or scholar who submitted the article.  Once an article has been reviewed and any recommended changes made, it is then published in the journal and considered "peer-reviewed".

  • In most research databases you can find detailed information about the publication group for a journal, how often the journal is published and whether or not it is a peer-reviewed publication
  • Just because an article is peer-reviewed does not necessarily mean that an article is a research study.  You will find a variety of article types: commentaries, editorials, literature reviews or summaries.

The video below shows you how to examine journal article records to locate information about peer-review.


Timeliness is research can be subjective. Think about your topic.  Is it something that is relatively unaffected by time, do the constants remain consistent in the long term? Or does your topic rely heavily on the most up-to-date information?

  • If the main ideas change with time, limit your search to more recent research
  • If the main ideas don't really change, but perhaps the way it has been studied has changed, the publication date may or may not matter

Common sense should be your guide as you consider using an item for your literature review

The catalogs and databases are equipped with tools to help you limit date ranges.  The video below demonstrates how you can use these tools.


When searching for books in online catalogs, examining the record closely can be a time-saver.  Even the most basic catalog record includes information about the author, key subjects, publisher, and number of pages. These provide key information that can help you to decide if you want to take the next step and examine the book itself. Often book records in catalog will contain additional information such as an abstract or summary and the table of contents.  Records such as these are even more helpful in determining if you want to seek out a particular book.

  • Reliable publishers such as university presses, educational or scholarly publishers such as Sage, Routlege, Pearson, Cengage, etc. have good and reliable reputations for printing high quality resources.
  • Predatory publishers or vanity presses should be avoided. If an author has paid an exorbitant fee to have their material published, that should raise a red flag.  These items are typically poorly edited and are more difficult obtain except through private websites or places like Amazon Marketplace. If you are in doubt, please ask your professor or a librarian for advice.

The video below is focused on examining particular book records to determine if you want to borrow it from our library or another library using interlibrary loan.  For more information on searching catalogs please refer to the video on the "Books" tab of this guide and for more information about interlibrary please refer to the "Interlibrary Loan" tab of this guide.

Journal Articles

Journals come in a variety of formats and can have different publication patterns. The major differences between print and online journals is format and the way that we can search their contents to find relevant articles.  Typically, print and online content is launch simultaneously and is identical in content.

  • Reliable publishers such as professional organizations, university presses or scholarly publishers such as Taylor & Francis, Sage, Wiley, Elsevier, etc. have good and reliable reputations for printing high quality resources.
  • Predatory publishers should be avoided.  Things to look at are volume numbers, how many years has it been published?, badly translated text, poor editing and large publishing fees for authors. It is rare to find these in the databases, but be aware that they are there.  You are much more likely to find them when searching the internet using Google or some other search engine.
  •  If you are in doubt please ask your professor or a librarian for advice.

The video below shows how you can use the database tools to determine if an article has been published in a scholarly journal.

Trade Publications and Magazines

Trade publications or "informed journalism" & magazines

  • Magazines that most people are familiar with include Time, People, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and other similar titles.  Magazines such as these have stories that are typically written by reporters who cover a variety of topics and subject matter
  • Trade publications can be more difficult to identify than what we normally think of as magazines. One major difference with trade publications is that the articles and stories are typically written by informed or subject specific writers.  For instance, Education Week is considered a trade publication not a magazine or newspaper (although the newspaper format can be deceiving) because the articles are written by educators for educators. 
  • Trade publications can also be hard to identify because you will often find summaries or reports of research studies.  If you are simply looking for research studies and find a summary of one in a publication like this, it is important to remember that you should track down the original source to use for your literature review rather than the summary. Information about how to do this is on the "Journal Articles" tab of this guide.

The video below shows how you can locate information on article records to help you determine the type of publication and how you can determine whether or not you are looking at a research study.

Theses and Dissertations

Theses or Dissertations can both be helpful research tools.  However, they are not recommended for use with this literature review assignment.

  • If you do discover a document of this type, our recommendation is to make use of the literature review that is typically a major component to locate original research studies through reference mining.
  • You will discover many theses and dissertations as you search the library databases and catalogs.  They are usually easily identifiable.  Unless it has been published as an open access document these are hard to find and obtain for more casual researchers.  Generally only one copy is published and owned by the university where the student completed their degree.  Some libraries are willing to lend these but most do not lend these documents outside of their campus.

The video below shows how you can identify these and dissertation records in the book and journal article databases.

Reference Mining

Reference Mining is a fairly simple process that has been used by many researchers to locate additional studies beyond what they have been able to locate using more traditional research methods.  It is also a useful way to make use of articles that are compilations or summaries of others research studies. This is a process that can be used for many different publication types.

The video below takes a closer look at reference mining for both books and journal articles. There is also a brief section about using the library's databases to locate the citations from a reference list.