• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

‘Written in an authoritative and accessible style, this is a must-read for anyone planning, researching and writing a doctoral thesis or dissertation. I will certainly be recommending this book to my research students.’- Professor Goeffrey Elliott, University of Worcester‘Paul’s book was a lifeline during my doctorate: it is now the first book that I recommend for my research students! His book is easily accessible, full of practical advice, and provides useful study strategies to carefully guide you - this third edition is a valuable asset wherever you are on your doctoral journey.’- Dr Scott Buckler, University of WorcesterBased on his extensive experience as a successful thesis supervisor, Paul Oliver shows you how to turn your notes and data into a finished thesis or dissertation.Fully up-to-date with current HEFCE/other EU requirements, the book sets out a template for you to follow, including planning and preparation, theoretical perspectives, publishing preliminary findings, and preparing for the viva.This fully revised and updated edition contains: • Examples of common mistakes and how you can avoid them • Discussions of artefacts such as creative work • Research-focused content • A section on the relationship with your supervisor • Information on online and digital work, so you are up to date with the latest developments in thesis writingThe book will offer essential advice to postgraduate and research students on master’s, M. Phil or Ph.D programmes. It also offers helpful guidelines for overseas students.

The Literature Review
The Literature Review

In this chapter we consider different approaches to the writing of the literature review. We examine strategies for subdividing the literature, and for coping with an apparent lack of relevant studies. We also discuss the use of a variety of research sources, including material from the Internet, and the different ways in which you can carry out an online search.

Study Strategies
  • Conduct a literature search on the Internet, on a subject which is of interest to you in research. Decide which items you might cite in a thesis and which you would consider unsuitable. Make a list of the criteria you use for acceptance or rejection.
(i) General issues concerning the literature review
The purpose of the literature review

The chapter which deals with literature that is relevant to the subject matter of the thesis, is often one of the longest. It is usually placed near the beginning of the thesis, often the second chapter. The literature review is usually concerned primarily with the research and writing connected with the main subject matter of the research study. It does not usually concern the literature connected with the research methodology. For example, in an action research study, the literature on the history, theory and practice of action research would be dealt with primarily in the methodology chapter, rather than in the literature review chapter.

The use of the word ‘review’ is interesting. This does not mean that you provide a detailed analysis and discussion of a book or of a research article. There would not be the space to achieve this and, at the same time, to provide a reasonable coverage of the subject field. The word ‘review’ indicates that you should summarize the broad content of the research article or study, and indicate clearly any linkages with other studies in the field, thus conveying something of the academic relationships within the subject area. If possible the commentary on each piece of literature should explain succinctly the key findings of the study, and indicate the potential or actual significance of the study within a national or international framework.

The principal purpose of the literature review is to establish the academic and research areas which are of relevance to the subject of the research. Consider a thesis with the following title: ‘Quality assurance issues in distance learning in higher education’. Ideally, there would be sufficient literature devoted to the exact subject matter of the title. However, this may not be entirely so, and it may be necessary to consider some of the concepts included in the title. There are three key concepts in this title: ‘quality assurance’, ‘distance learning’ and ‘higher education’. It may well be that there are available research studies on the subject of distance learning which also mention some quality assurance issues. Equally there may be articles on higher education in general which also mention the impact of distance learning. The primary function of the literature review is to try to establish those academic areas in which are located the previous studies and research which are of most relevance to the current study.

Leading on from that, the literature review seeks to lay a foundation for the current research. It sets the thesis within a research context consisting of relevant research studies and other analyses of related ideas. The new thesis should not be seen as an isolated study, but as a study which exists in an academic tradition, and the purpose of the literature review is to try to establish the nature of that tradition.

The type of literature to be discussed in this chapter should be largely reports of research relevant to the subject matter of the thesis. The main location of such research will be articles in academic journals. Another useful source may be reports of research which are published as booklets and pamphlets. Government agencies and official organizations frequently commission small-scale research studies, and then publish them themselves for distribution within the profession. Such publications can be a very useful source of relevant literature.

You may be unsure about the types of books which are suitable for discussion in a literature review chapter. For convenience, we can divide academic books into four categories, for the purposes of this discussion. Textbooks, whether for school, college or university students, are generally unsuitable for discussion in the literature review chapter. A textbook is primarily concerned with the transmission of established knowledge. Textbooks can be extremely useful in helping you understand issues which you will discuss in your thesis, but they are usually less appropriate for evaluation in a literature review. Having said that, some textbooks do rather more than simply convey current knowledge. Through their discussion of concepts and ideas, they may go beyond the mere transmission of understanding. They do, to a degree, extend our current understanding. The books which come into this category are often a matter of personal academic opinion. Hence, you cannot say that textbooks must be permanently excluded from a literature review chapter, but their inclusion should certainly be treated with caution.

Some books, while not being based upon empirical research, do appear to set out to extend the barriers of understanding. They typically take a subject, and review the main contributions to understanding in that field. They then take this further, by analysing these concepts and ideas, such that there develops a contribution to understanding. Such books may bear some of the characteristics of textbooks, and the barrier between the two categories may be debatable. Nevertheless, books which you feel fall into this category are generally suitable for inclusion in the literature review chapter.

Then there are edited books, which consist of a series of individual chapters, usually each written by a separate academic. The chapters are all connected by means of a common theme, and the book edited by a noted academic in that field. In books of this type each chapter is usually authoritative, and frequently based upon empirical research. Some chapters may, however, be philosophical in nature, consisting of a conceptual analysis of various key ideas in the field. Chapters from edited books such as this are generally appropriate for inclusion in the literature review.

Finally, there are books which are based upon empirical studies. In a sense these are longer versions of academic journal articles. They often report on major research studies, and are suitable for inclusion in the literature review.

Besides these main categories of source materials, there are other ways in which research studies are reported. You may find reports in academic newspapers such as the Times Educational Supplement, on radio and television programmes, and in professional journals. Frequently, however, such reports represent distilled versions of the full report, and wherever possible the original version of the research report should be evaluated. Aspects of the literature review are discussed in Arksey and Knight (1999, pp. 47–9).

Style of writing for the literature review

The literature review may be a very long chapter and usually requires some form of structure. It can be extremely confusing to read a discussion of the literature where the books and articles are not presented in a particular order. The simplest means of organizing the works is to discuss them in chronological order. This, however, may not always be the most appropriate system. Works on different subjects may be grouped together and, with date of publication as the only criterion of order, the discussion may still be very confusing. Another strategy would be to base the structure on different types of publications. Chapters in books, journal articles and single-author books could be grouped separately. This, however, would still result in works on different subjects being discussed together. Strategies for subdividing the literature based on subject matter are discussed in the next section. What is important, however, is that there is some kind of structure to the chapter, since without this it is difficult to discuss the links and similarities which occur between different cited works.

For the present discussion of writing style, let us assume that an overall structure has been established for the chapter, and that you are beginning to discuss a new research article. The example shows how a section of a literature review might be written. It relates to the previously mentioned thesis title of ‘Quality assurance issues in distance learning in higher education’.

The general style of writing and structure represented in this example is repeated throughout the literature review. The key feature of the approach is that each work or piece of research which is cited is summarized and discussed briefly. This discussion may be only about one paragraph in length. At the beginning and end of the discussion, linkages with the previous and later works cited are established. In addition, you can also comment on links with works cited in other parts of the chapter. It is usual to provide a quotation to illustrate the summary which you have provided, or to support an argument which you are developing. In many places, the literature review chapter may be descriptive in nature. That is, it may summarize the key features of previous research. However, wherever the opportunity arises, you should try to identify trends in the literature, or areas in which separate research studies, directly or indirectly, appear to be supporting a shared argument or viewpoint. Moreover, the literature review should look back at the aims in the previous chapter, and seek to set each individual aim within a context of previous research studies.

Subdividing the available literature

The literature review chapter is much easier to read if it is divided into sections. In this form, it is also much easier to write. However, it is not always easy to determine a strategy for dividing up the chapter. The first step in the process is to conduct a preliminary survey of the literature which is relevant to the title. For the purposes of this discussion, let us consider a thesis entitled ‘Multiculturalism in the secondary school curriculum’. A preliminary survey will reveal a considerable number of publications on multiculturalism, although many of these books or articles will entail a discussion of multiculturalism within a particular context. These areas might involve multiculturalism in society in general, in various sectors of the educational system, or in a variety of professions. Equally there will be many publications on different aspects of the secondary curriculum. There will certainly be separate publications on the different subject areas of the secondary curriculum. In addition to this body of literature, there are many publications on ethnicity, ethnic relations, comparative culture, comparative religion, and the different religious groups within the educational system. There are probably far too many potential categories here, and hence it would be necessary to try to define the larger, broad categories which are relevant to the subject matter of the thesis.

This is where it is useful to return to the aims of the thesis, because these provide a provisional structure within which you can begin to organize the literature review. For example, suppose one of the first aims is to explore the educational achievement of different cultural groups. This aim might suggest that one relevant area would be a body of literature which discussed the nature of culture and ethnicity, and attempted to clarify something of the conceptual issues surrounding these terms. Another relevant area could be that of educational achievement, and particularly achievement related to any aspect of culture, religion or ethnicity.

In other words, although it is relatively easy to think of possible subdivisions for the literature review chapter, it is important that those subdivisions have some relevance to the remainder of the thesis. It is not always possible to write in a purely linear fashion. The aims, the literature review, the methodology and the data are all intertwined as a coherent whole, and it is important to ensure that there is some correspondence between different sections. Here is a summary of some of the strategies which may be used to develop categories for the literature review chapter:

Dealing with an apparent lack of relevant literature

As a supervisor, one of the most common issues raised with me is that of locating suitable literature to review, when the student can find very little of apparent relevance to the thesis. I suspect that other supervisors are in the same position. The question of finding suitable literature is usually based on searching for books or articles which are very close in subject area to the thesis title. However, it is often extremely difficult to locate a large number of such references. For example, in the case of a research study entitled ‘Community colleges in the USA and England – a comparative study’, it may be relatively difficult to identify a body of literature which is specifically devoted to such comparative studies of community colleges. If you have made a thorough search of all likely sources, and have only identified relatively few references, then you should widen the field of search.

Among the topics you may wish to search are community colleges in general, community colleges in the USA, community colleges in England, and comparative studies of the English and American educational systems. Each of these searches may reveal a number of other subject areas which would be suitable to explore. Some subject searches may reveal a large number of references, others very few. This may affect your decision about which source materials to include in the chapter. When you look at some references, they may appear to have moved a relatively long way from your subject matter, and so you may wish to reject them. The other very significant factor which will affect your choice of areas to explore is the length of the thesis. A PhD thesis is a different matter from a short master’s thesis. For a doctorate you may need to move some considerable way from the original title in searching for literature, in order to locate a sufficient number of references. With a master’s thesis, the opposite may be the case. There are thus pragmatic considerations in terms of selecting the breadth of material to be reviewed.

One final consideration is that some students take into account the amount of literature which is potentially available when selecting the title for their research. This is an example of the argument that you cannot treat a research project or thesis in an entirely linear fashion. If you choose a title or research subject without any concern for the literature which might be available, or for the data you might be in a position to collect, then it may later prove difficult to complete the research.

In some ways, it is better to see research as a network of connected processes, with each process depending for its success on several others. When selecting a subject matter for the research, as a precaution, think ahead to the extent of the literature which may be available to review. If a preliminary search reveals relatively little relevant research, then a slight change in the focus of the title may open up new avenues to explore.

Making a selection from a wide variety of literature

Sometimes, although rarer, a student may be faced with such a surplus of possible literature to review that it is difficult to make a selection of those items to include. If this situation arises, then the first possibility is that the title which has been chosen is really too broad. For example, if you are planning to write a thesis on the subject of ‘Curriculum development in further education’, then you would almost certainly find an enormous quantity of literature. With such a title for the research, there may be no rational grounds on which one could reduce the literature to be surveyed. In order to make things more manageable you would need to change the title.

One strategy would be to limit the subject to a specific time span. The title might become ‘Curriculum development in further education in the 1980s’. This would be an interesting historical study which would include many developments in vocational education and training. There would still be a lot of literature to review, but at least the subject would be more focused. Another possibility would be to examine a particular influence on curriculum development, as in the title ‘Central government influence on curriculum development in further education’. Again, this would, in effect, limit the extent of the literature which needed to be surveyed. A rather different focus would be provided by the title ‘Financial support for curriculum development in further education’. With a little ingenuity, it would be possible to think of many more possible titles constructed around the same central theme. Each title might make rather different demands in terms of methodology and data, and would certainly indicate a different type of research literature to be reviewed.

A broad title is not always desirable for a research study and for a thesis, because it is often very difficult to meet the resulting aims within the scope of the study. The wide range of literature to be reviewed is another complication. However, let us assume that you have narrowed your subject matter and title, but you are still faced with an extensive body of literature; other strategies have to be used. One possibility is to use only a particular type of research study. You might decide that in the example of curriculum development, you would only use research studies conducted by existing further education lecturers. You might justify this on the grounds that they are the professionals involved in the processes they are researching. As another possibility, you could restrict the literature to a certain type of course or academic programme. You might decide to use literature exclusively concerning vocational programmes, or with academic programmes. Finally, you might select studies to review which involved surveys of a number of colleges, or which explored case studies of individual colleges. Again the scope is very wide.

In the thesis, however, it is very important to explain and justify the strategy you have used. It may well be feasible to use any of the approaches mentioned above under suitable circumstances. However, the strategy used to reduce the volume of literature to be surveyed is less important than the reasons for selecting that strategy. You might wish to argue that the selection strategy results in a range of literature which is more relevant to the specific aims of the study. Alternatively, you may suggest that a particular approach to the literature selection results in more small-scale empirical studies which are relevant to the thesis subject. As with most aspects of research design and of structuring a thesis, it is very important to indicate the planning which has preceded decisions, and to explain the basis for that planning.

Employing a range of literature

When compiling works for your literature review, and indeed when citing works generally in your thesis, it is a good idea to draw upon as wide a range of types of literature as possible. This introduces variety into the thesis, and hence can make it more interesting for the reader. Also, as some academics tend to write in a restricted range of genres, it may help to ensure that you cite a wide range of writers.

In order to help you achieve this it is a good idea to enlist the help of the university library staff. There is usually an academic librarian responsible for each major subject area in a university library. That person is well informed about the many different types of publications relevant to your subject and, because information retrieval and management is at the heart of their job, is often better informed on such matters than lecturers. New electronic resources, periodicals and journals become available all the time, and lecturers may simply not have the time or information to keep up to date on them all. The academic librarian not only may indicate existing sources of which you were unaware, but may be willing to notify you of new publications as they appear.

It is important, however, to issue a word of warning about types of literature. We have commented earlier about the need to use as much research-based literature as possible. Sometimes, however, you may feel that you would like to mention articles from newspapers or from, say, weekly serious periodicals. You may wish to refer to one or two of these in either the literature review or somewhere else in the thesis. Whether or not this is appropriate depends to a large extent on the nature of your research study. For example, newspaper articles reporting current events, or serious periodicals analysing and discussing such events, may be relevant to a historical or political study. In a thesis on, say, the history of the financing of university education, such material may be valuable. It may contain extracts from ministerial speeches, and comments by vice-chancellors. However, the same type of material may not be relevant to other theses, and could seem rather populist, non-academic and insufficiently rigorous. Unfortunately, it is difficult to set down strict guidelines, and much depends on the context. Nevertheless, it is important to be cautious. In general, if the material is used, then you should feel confident that it is a reliable source in a reputable publication. If you have any concerns about its use, but still decide to use it, then it would be desirable to mention these concerns in the thesis. In addition, if your thesis lends itself to the use of a number of such sources, then it may be better to list these separately at the end of the thesis, to distinguish them from more conventional academic sources.

Literature from the Internet

The Internet offers enormous advantages to the researcher seeking literature to review, but at the same time there are a number of areas where considerable caution should be exercised.

The Internet is very useful for providing access to original writings by noted academics, or access to sources which are otherwise difficult to locate. In many cases materials are available via your computer, when otherwise you might have to visit an archive in a distant library. You will often find an explanation of where to locate rare source material, and information on the background to that source material. There is also very useful information on academic journals (whether electronic or otherwise) which are relevant to a particular subject area.

Internet sites often provide very useful bibliographies related to a particular subject or writer. There are often links to other sites which are very useful. A brief search on the Internet will usually also reveal relevant professional societies and academic associations which exist to support studies in a specific area. Sometimes such organizations also publish collections of papers or periodicals around their specific academic interest. You will have to make a judgement whether such organizations and their publications are sufficiently scholarly to quote in your literature review. One guide is to examine the list of contributors and officers of the organization. If they are associated with colleges and universities, then you are likely to be reasonably safe in citing them.

Notwithstanding these many advantages, you should also exercise caution in using Internet sites. When you first look at a web page it is a good idea to try to ascertain the reason for establishing it. Some are set up by academic organizations, often indicated by ‘edu’ or ‘ac’ in the Internet address. On the other hand, some are set up by commercial organizations, or by organizations which exist to publicize their own ideology. The articles on the site may be about academic matters, but may be written from a particular ideological perspective. If this is the case, then you should think carefully before citing it.

Many web pages do not record the author’s name or the name of any academic affiliation, and sometimes the author’s name has been withheld. In such cases it is impossible to establish the academic credibility of the site, or to provide the requisite bibliographical details for inclusion in a thesis. In other cases the author of the site does record his or her name but there is no apparent academic affiliation, so the impression is given that the author has established the web pages as an expression of their own interest rather than as part of a formal academic undertaking linked to an established institution. You cannot always rely upon such material to be accurate or to be academically valid, and you should consider carefully before citing it in a thesis.

Some Internet sites include articles extracted from encyclopedias. These can be very helpful and informative as background reading on a topic, but are normally unsuitable for citing in a thesis. Some publishers put extracts from recently published books on the Internet, and these can be a valuable resource for researchers. In keeping with previous advice it would be necessary to establish that it was a research-based book before citing it in a thesis. It is not uncommon to find academic essays and papers on the Internet, written by people who have an affiliation with a university or other academic body. However, sometimes the status of the author is not established, even though they are connected with a university. The author could be a professor or a student. When the status of the author is uncertain, you should think carefully before citing the article or essay. Fortunately, some authors are extremely open and honest in explaining the status of their web pages. Sometimes an author will offer a disclaimer, stating that the written material is for background reading only, and as it has not been checked or refereed, should not be relied upon as authoritative. Such balanced and open statements are very helpful.

How old may the literature be?

The direct answer to this question is that it can, in principle, be of any age. We can easily imagine a thesis on ancient history citing the works of Roman historians. In former times historians had the distinct advantage of writing about events which were much closer to them than they are to us. However, they were not subject to the same kind of academic discipline as contemporary historians, and this has to be taken into account when reading their works. When reading older works in particular, one has to be aware of the particular perspective from which the book might have been written, or the social or political influences which impinged upon the writer.

Academic research is very much a cumulative activity. Each generation learns from the previous one, and current research inevitably builds upon the work and insights of previous academics. Contemporary research and publications are subject to the increasingly rigorous demands of modern scholarship, and for this reason it is preferable to cite publications which are as recent as possible.

Nevertheless, in most fields of enquiry there are a number of so-called seminal works which, although of varying age, have become so important in the development of the discipline that they are still referred to in academic works. There are a variety of reasons for a piece of research or book coming to be regarded as a seminal work. In some fields, the first translation of a major cultural work may still be cited. It may have been superseded by later translations, but it still retains importance as the first work of its type. In most fields, the original works by the founders of a perspective or approach are still cited. No doubt their original ideas will have been extended and amplified over the years by other writers, but the original work still retains a good deal of value. Again, all academic fields have key writers whose reputations have grown over the years, and inevitably their works become held in considerable esteem. Very often, current academics have come to realize that early research in their field had limitations, but nevertheless such research is still cited simply because it was the first attempt to explore that academic area. It was epoch-making at the time, and hence may retain its importance long into the future. However, you should always be cautious about quoting or citing older works, unless you are confident that there are academic justifications for doing so.

(ii) Online literature searching
Searching for research articles

It is relatively rare now for researchers and academics to search paper copies of academic journals on library shelves, except for specialized purposes, such as a historical study. When you are looking for academic articles, you are likely to be using a number of electronic databases, which are relevant to your subject area. A widely used bibliographic database is Google Scholar (2012). Through its search engine, it enables you to locate a wide variety of materials on a subject. It will enable you to identify theses, books, monographs and, in particular, journal articles. When articles are listed, they are ranked according to a number of characteristics such as the author, the content of the article, and the journal in which it has been published. The number of times the article has been cited is another criterion employed in the order of listing of articles. Google Scholar enables you to access articles from a very wide range of journals, thus providing a broad spread of subjects. If you prefer to consult a more specialist database, then there are a number available. PsycINFO® (American Psychological Association, 2012), for example, enables you to search for articles in the behavioural sciences area. The database currently provides access to over 2,500 journals. It should be noted that this and many other such databases do not provide full-text copies of articles. They may provide you with the bibliographic details and an abstract, but it will be your responsibility to locate a full-text version. You may be able to do this through your university academic library.

Some databases do provide the complete text of articles. One example is SocINDEX™with Full Text (EBSCO, 2012). This database provides over 2 million items covering the principal sub-disciplines of sociology. It contains the full text of over 16,800 conference papers, and the full text of articles in 890 academic journals. Another full text database is JSTOR® (2012). This organization electronically archives the full texts of academic journals, and then enables people to search them. It currently has back copies of more than 1,400 journals archived electronically. In order to do this JSTOR® usually has agreements with publishers concerning the most recent copies of their journals which can be archived.

Finally, it is worth mentioning SciVerse®Scopus® (Elsevier B.V., 2012), which contains a database of abstracts and citations, drawn from a large library of peer-reviewed literature. It identifies articles from approximately 18,500 academic journals, and draws upon material from a total of approximately 500 different publishers. If required, it provides links to full-text articles. These are just some of a large number of search engines and databases which can be used to identify research articles. So comprehensive is the scale of these databases, that you may find your main difficulty is not identifying articles, but selecting and reading those you will include in your thesis. You will need to make your selection, and then integrate them into a thoughtful analysis for your literature review.

Searching for theses

It is now normal for academic libraries to store postgraduate theses electronically. Such libraries may still retain bound paper copies of older theses, but many of these are in the process of being digitized to increase availability. There are a number of electronic databases of theses which you can search to find studies relevant to your own research. Examples include OpenThesis (2009) and the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD, 2012). You may not automatically be able to access a full-text version of a thesis from such databases, and may need to access links to other organizations for this. The British Library (2012) supports EThOS (Electronic Theses Online Service), which stores copies of all theses produced within the UK higher education system. It is also actively involved in digitizing older, paper-based theses.

Another way of approaching the search for a thesis, is to examine the content of university repositories. The development of repositories has been closely linked with the trend towards the open access of research data and writing. Generally speaking, repositories support the philosophy of open access, and you should therefore be able to consult repositories in a variety of institutions, not just in your own university. Repositories are used by institutions to store electronically the research and knowledge output of their students, staff and researchers. One of the easiest ways to conduct a search is to use one of their databases of repositories, such as the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR, 2010). Within this database, you can access a list of the repositories in the Directory. OpenDOAR is administered from the Centre for Research Communications, at the University of Nottingham. One of the benefits of citing theses, and indeed the other types of material typically found in repositories, is that they are likely to be relatively recent, and therefore a source of up-to-date analysis on specialized topics.

Using ‘grey’ literature

Depending upon the nature of your research, you may want to include some less formal material in your literature review. Examples might include minutes of meetings, unpublished essays, leaflets, emails or circulars. This type of material is usually known as ‘grey literature’, and includes any form of document which has not been formally produced by a publishing company. At times there may be a fine dividing line between published literature and grey literature. Potentially, there is a wide range of material which you might decide to cite.

You will probably be able to think of many other examples – just consider the types of material you see pinned to university noticeboards or scattered around university teaching rooms.

There are some kinds of study for which grey literature may be particularly relevant. If your research involves political issues, there may well be leaflets and pamphlets which have a political content which would be very useful. The same may be true of a study involving religion. If you are conducting any kind of ethnographic study, then you may identify different kinds of documents which shed light on the social background of your study. In these types of research one of the main advantages of grey literature is that it is often relatively recent when compared with some published material. If you want to carry out a more systematic search for grey literature, you could use the OpenGrey database (Institut de l’Information Scientifique et Technique, 2011), a European-wide database of grey literature which covers a large number of different disciplines and uses English as its main language.

It is important, however, that we consider briefly some of the disadvantages of grey literature. One of the principal problems is trying to cite it accurately. There are many documents such as leaflets, pamphlets and circulars which, although containing very useful information, do not list the author or the date of publication. When it comes to referencing them, you will often have to compromise, and simply put down as much bibliographic information as you have available, even if this means that you cannot comply exactly with some of the normal referencing conventions. If there is no author listed for a document, then it may be difficult to authenticate the contents. One of the purposes of using references is to support your arguments, or to note others who have reached the same broad conclusions. If you are unable to cite an author or at least the organization which has produced the document, then the value of the citation may be limited. However, if you are using grey literature in your literature review, it may be a good idea to discuss briefly the limitations, in order to demonstrate to the reader that you are familiar with these. Sometimes the content of a document can outweigh the disadvantage of a lack of author’s name.

Online library catalogues

One of the biggest developments in literature searching in recent years, has been the capacity to make the databases of numerous libraries available through one centralized search. WorldCat® (OCLC, 2012) is one of the largest of such combined library catalogues. A variety of different media are available, but clearly books and scholarly articles will be of most interest to researchers. Once you have located materials through WorldCat, the latter will identify the nearest library where you should be able to access them. However, whether or not you are able to gain access to a full document will depend on the particular library which owns the document, and whether or not you are a member of that library. There are over 70,000 libraries across the world, which are affiliated to WorldCat, and each has its own conditions for making materials available. WorldCat is essentially a very large bibliographic database which will enable you to identify an item, but may or may not furnish a link to the complete book or document. As perhaps may be expected from a combination of libraries worldwide, there are items on WorldCat in many different languages.

Copac (Copac®, 2012) is a smaller consortium of libraries which focuses upon academic and scholarly libraries in the UK and Ireland. It includes such libraries as the British Library, the university libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, the National Trust libraries, the National Library of Scotland, the library of the Natural History Museum, and York Minster Library. Copac is not in itself a library, and hence does not possess academic materials. Once you have identified an item, you may then need to obtain a copy through inter-library loans. Like WorldCat it has access to materials in many languages.

Electronic databases which integrate the catalogues from a number of national libraries can be very useful if you are researching some aspect of the culture of that country. An example of such a national catalogue is AMICUS, the Canadian National Library Catalogue (AMICUS, 2012). AMICUS combines the contents of over 1,300 different libraries in Canada, and makes them available through a single search process. It is also bilingual in French and English.

These are just a few of the many online library catalogues which are available, and which are an invaluable resource for researchers and students.

Further reading
Gilbert, N. (2001) Researching Social Life. London: Sage.
Hart, C. (1998) Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. London: Sage.
Jesson, J., Matheson, L. and Lacey, F.M. (2011) Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques. London: Sage.
Machi, L.A. and McEvoy, B.T. (2009) The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Ridley, D. (2008) The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students. London: Sage.
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