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Qualitative Research

Course Number: TH664

Subject: Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy

Table of Contents

1. Literature Review  2. Types of Sources  3. Searching  4. Preliminary Searching  5. Worksheet


This guide accompanies an in-class workshop about literature review.

OBJECTIVE: draft a working plan for reviewing the literature.

Shared Google Doc

Use our shared Google Doc to participate in collaborative note-taking.

  • Please add at least 1 note during class.
  • Add questions for the librarian and the class.

1. Literature Review

THE PRODUCT: A literature review is a survey of research about a particular topic.

  • It's specific - focuses on a well-defined research question or topic.
  • It's selective - includes a curated selection of research.
  • It's a synthesis - brings together discussions from across the research.
  • It's a starting point - identifies where your research fits into the picture.
  • It shows accountability - demonstrates how you're tuning-in to others' work and voices responsibly.

Example: see "Beyond the Family Binary" in The Journal of Marriage and Family (p. 942-946).

QUESTION: How many sources should you include in a literature review for a research paper?

THE PROCESS: There are different ways to review literature. Your methods need to fit your goals for the project at hand.

  • What types of sources are you looking for?
  • Where's the best place to search?
  • What keywords will get you good results?
  • What search tactics will help you identify relevant studies?

2. Types of Sources - What is Scholarship?

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

"The attainments or works of a scholar; knowledge or expertise.

The collective attainments or works of scholars, esp. within a particular field of academic study."

Scholarship is conversation. Scholarship is community. Scholarship is process.

  • Peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Research monographs (aka books)
  • Conference papers
  • Presentations
  • Podcasts (e.g. Secret Feminist Agenda)
  • Conversation in classrooms, hallways, coffee shops, etc.

QUESTION: What does "peer review" mean in the context of peer-reviewed journal articles?

The Politics of Citation

Similar to the Bechdel test (a measure of gender inequality in film), the Gray test offers a way to consider citation habits in scholarship.

Is this bare minimum enough? Is that really all we're asking for?

Image Description

Gray test. If an article fails to meet this bare-minimum test, it’s biased and needs improvement: (1) Cite 2 women scholars, (2) cite 2 BIPOC scholars, (3) meaningfully engage with that scholarship. After Kishonna Gray, inventor of #citeherwork.

From Writing Your Academic Journal Article in 12 Weeks (Belcher, 2019)


QUESTION: Where do you tend to search for peer-reviewed articles?


3. Searching

a. Article Databases

There is a list of databases relevant to Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy. Choose databases to search for your topic based on the descriptions.

  • Limit results to peer-reviewed.
  • Discover key articles.
  • Recognize key scholars.
  • Avoid missing important results.
  • Cut out irrelevant results.

b. Keywords

What are the major concepts in your topic? What are some synonyms or alternate terms you can use? 

  • Consider the terms typically used in research literature.
  • Google "synonyms for ..."
  • If you have an on-topic article, see what terms get used in the title/abstract.
Major Concept Keywords

teenagers, adolescents, adolescence, teens, youth, young people

c. Field Searching

  • Use the drop-down beside a search box to find terms in specific areas of results. Codes beside each field tell the database where to search for a term.

Example: ti("adverse childhood experiences") in PsycINFO (all results will have the term in titles).

d. Limits

  • You can limit results to peer-reviewed or scholarly.
  • A date limit is also sometimes useful.

e. Search Tactics

Try using some of the following database search tactics to get better results.

What is the tactic? What does the tactic do? Examples
Boolean AND

Use AND to ensure that all terms appear in every search result.

depression AND home care

Boolean OR

Use OR to ensure that at least one term appears in every search result.

transgender OR LGBTQ OR GLBT

Phrase searching Use quotation marks to find more than one term in a row.

brain cancer

Truncation Use an asterisk* at the end of a term to include multiple endings.


trauma, traumatic, traumatically, traumatize, traumatized, traumatizing

Wildcard Use a question mark ? within a term to search for variations of a single character.


decolonize, decolonise


These are controlled terms from a database thesaurus that are assigned to articles.

Databases have different thesauri, which affects the subjects you use.

MESH.EXACT("Health Services for Transgender Persons") in MEDLINE

(MH "Transgender Persons+") in CINAHL

TIP: Adapt a synthesis table template to compare studies.

4. Preliminary Searching

  • Before brainstorming a research question, it's helpful to learn a bit about your topic. 
    • Do some preliminary database searching: what questions are researchers are asking?
      • From your search results, read just article titles and abstracts where the titles sound interesting.

Literature Review Goals for a Research Paper 

Goals for your literature review

Image description

Goals for your literature review. 1. Define your topic. It’s common to begin with a broad topic, but how will you develop a more specific focus? 2. Develop your understanding of the literature. Can you map out themes, outcomes, methodologies, controversies across a body of literature? 3. Identify where you fit in the conversation. How are you contributing to knowledge in your field? Throughout all 3 stages, you'll be finding relevant studies.


5. Optional Worksheet