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Communication Studies Research Methods

Course Number: CS601

Literature review: definition and purpose

What is a literature review?

  • An overview of existing research on a specific topic
  • “A secondary source, desk-based research method which critically describes and appraises a topic.”
  • Focused on scholarly literature: the “scholarly conversation”
  • Usually involves aspects of analysis and synthesis

Purpose of the literature review

  • Summarize existing research
  • Show you are aware of research done in a field
  • Show you can interpret the research
  • Identify gaps in or critique existing knowledge
  • Fit your work into the scholarly conversation

 Source: Jesson, J., Matheson, L., & Lacey, F. M. (2011). Doing your literature review : traditional and systematic techniques . SAGE.

Steps in a systematic secondary literature search
  1. Use your research question to develop effective search terms and combinations of terms
  2. Decide where you’ll search
  3. Repeat searches across databases
  4. Track results, modify strategies as needed
1. Use your research question to develop your search strategy

Generating keywords from research questions

“You have to be systematic about generating keywords – and creative at the same time. Not an easy ask. In fact, searching the literature involves a surprisingly sophisticated set of thought processes that take a long time to learn.”

Dr. Inger Mewburn, Director of Research Training, Australian National University
Source: The Thesis Whisperer, “How to become a literature searching ninja.”

2. Use effective search terms and combinations

Example question:

  • How do people search for information on covid-19?

Break out questions into concepts, e.g.:

  • Concept 1: covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, coronavirus
  • Concept 2: information
  • Concept 3: search, find, choose

Search engine syntax to help narrow your results

Boolean operators

  • AND: narrows results
    • covid-19 AND information
  • OR: broadens results; links similar terms
    • covid-19 OR “SARS CoV-2”
  • NOT: subtracts any results with your search term (use judiciously)
    • covid-19 NOT telemedicine
  • NOTE: if you use Omni, you must put AND, OR, NOT in all CAPS

Phrase searching

  • Use double quotes around a phrase to specify you are searching for an exact phrase:
    • "social media"

Wildcards and truncation

* = asterisk truncation character; retrieves variants of the search term (doesn't work at the beginning of a word)

  • Farm* = farm, farms, farming – up to 5 characters (depending on database)
  • hea*one = headphone, headstone, healthone hearthstone heartstone heatherstone . . .
  • Colo*r = color, colour

? = question mark wildcard, retrieves variants for a single character

  • wom?n = woman, women

Most databases have more advanced options. These are two of the most popular

Check with the Help feature for each database for additional instructions and operators. Most are quite good.

3. Decide where you'll search

Recommended databases to search at minimum for comprehensive coverage:

  1. Communication & Mass Media Complete
    • This links to the C&MMC database alone, not other EBSCO databases, for precise results
  2. Communication Studies @ Proquest database bundle
  3. Web of Science, Social Science Citation Abstracts
Repeat your search across databases and track your results

Replicating searches

Databases use the same search syntax, so a search as below can be copied and pasted across multiple databases:

covid-19 OR sars-cov-2 OR coronavirus
AND information
AND find* OR search*

You could combine it into a single search string:

(covid-19 OR sars-cov-2 OR coronavirus) AND information AND (find* or search*)

Documenting your research strategy

  • Could use a research notebook, word document, search spreadsheet
  • Note down date, search performed, database used
  • Save your search or results in the database, or to a reference manager
  • This becomes important when conducting higher level research, detailed literature reviews, grant applications, systematic reviews

Manage your results

Identifying important journals in Communication Studies

Database method:

  • Use Communication & Mass Media Complete
    • This contains a curated set of journals specific to Communication
    • Be aware of the bibiographic data found in individual records indicating the journal title and select articles based on your research area
  • Use Web of Science (WoS) > Social Science Citation Index
    • in your search, add a row and select the WoS Categories > Communication
      • this limits results to journals in the WoS Communication category
    • To see the list of journals in the Communication category:
      • Access Web of Science at link above
      • click "Products" link at top right of screen
      • select "Journal Citation Reports"
      • on the new window that opens, select "Categories"
      • scroll to "Social Sciences, General"
      • Click "Communication"
      • you will see links to the journal lists in 2 indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index, and Emerging Sources Citation Index

Individual curated lists

National Communication Association (US): Journals publishing communication research

Bowling Green State University list of Communication Journals

Identifying important articles for the literature review
  • Ask experts
  • Consult bibliographies of books and articles you already find helpful
  • Find articles with high rates of citation
    • Consult Web of Science:
      • do a search and sort results by: "Citations, highest first"
      • also note the "Highly cited articles" filter on left side of WoS search results page
      • Google scholar has a similar "Cited by" function, but not possible to sort results by "highly cited" as you can in WoS



Page Owner: Peter Genzinger

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Last Updated: May 6, 2024 10:10am