A good literature review provides an overview of research on a topic, discusses and compares the major authors and works within the given parameters of the review, and sometimes identifies gaps in the research.
Penrose Library subscribes to many databases that index literature review articles. Some of these databases let you limit your search specifically to literature reviews. From the Advanced search screen in PsycInfo, for example, select to limit your results by Methodology, and choose Literature Review. PubMed, the freely-available version of Medline, is another database that permits limiting by literature review, specifically systematic reviews. In PubMed you can select the Limits option (to the right of the search box) and then under Type of Article, choose Review, or from the main PubMed page, under PubMed Tools, click on Clinical Queries and limit your results to Systematic Reviews. Web of Science, which includes Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Arts and Humanities Citation Index, enables you to refine your search by Document Type. After you have conducted your initial search, on the left menu select Document Type, Review, and click the Refine button. If you don’t see Review displayed in your initial results, try clicking on the “more options/values” link to display all document types available.
Some databases will indicate in the subject terms that the article is a literature review. SocIndex with Full Text, for example, uses “Literature Reviews” as a subject heading. In this database, you can type your topic keywords in the search box, and then add “Literature Reviews” to the next line and limit it to the SU Subject Terms field.
What do you do, however, when a database doesn’t have the option to limit to literature reviews? Often a literature review will include these terms in the title or the abstract of the review, such as the article, “Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military: A Review of the Literature and Recommendations for the Future.” Try searching with the phrase, literature review* or words literature and review* and limit your terms to the title or abstract field, or leave your terms set to the default keyword search. This strategy can be employed in our subscription databases and also in Google Scholar. Although this strategy isn’t perfect, since it will sometimes pick up articles that include a brief literature review (usually mentioned in the abstract) rather than being a full review article, you will be able to find some literature reviews on your topic. Keep in mind that literature reviews address many areas of research. If you are looking for a literature review on a very narrow topic and are unsuccessful, try broadening the scope of your subject keywords. If the database has a thesaurus, use this tool to help you identify narrower, broader, and related subject terms.
An excellent and reliable source for literature reviews is Annual Reviews. Penrose Library subscribes to many of the annual reviews in the biomedical, life, physical, and social sciences, including anthropology, biochemistry, clinical psychology, economics, genetics, microbiology, neuroscience, physical chemistry, political science, psychology, and sociology, among many others. Each annual review volume publishes review articles on selected topics. Some volumes are organized by thematic categories, such as the Annual Review of Sociology, which provides review articles within Theory and Methods, Social Processes, Institutions and Culture, Formal Organizations, Political and Economic Sociology, Differentiation and Stratification, Individual and Society, and Policy categories. Annual Reviews can be searched by keyword in individual issues, journals, or across the entire journal set. Full-text access to Annual Review journals is available from the Annual Reviews website and several of our databases (search by journal title in the catalog and link to the website or database from the record).