Literature Reviews

A brief guide for various disciplines, including social work, other social sciences, human environmental sciences, and related disciplines

Review Articles: What? Why? How Can I Find Them?

Review articles cover a particular subject or facet of a subject in depth and in detail. They are normally written by experts in a particular field, and may be cited frequently in other articles, forming a base line in the academic dialogue in a given area. They are a place to start if you are beginning to study a field, to discover facets that you may have missed or misunderstood, or if you need an overview.

The definition of what constitutes a review article may vary from field to field. The best idea is to examine several to get an idea of what is normally included; then you'll have a basis of comparison. The "Annual Review" series is one place to start.

The databases may tag review articles so that you can find them that way.

  • PsycINFO does this labeling from the the Methodology dropdown menu.
  • Agricola labels them as literature reviews; so does Academic Search Complete, so you could put in a topic and the phrase 'literature reviews' to find review articles on that topic. However, not all literature reviews rise to the level of the best review articles. 
  • Web of Science just uses the label 'review'.
  • In SciFinder or SciFinder-n you can limit to “review” using the limiting/focusing options on the right side of the page
  • In INSPEC or Compendex (in Engineering Village) you have the option to limit by “Treatment Type” – use “General Review”

However, review articles are NOT book reviews, product reviews, or the like. They are also not usually considered bibliographies, although a review article may contain a bibliography; they will almost certainly have a lengthy list of references.

Annual Review of...?

The Libraries subscribe to a series called Annual Review of _______ with the blank filled by a number of different subjects.Each selection within a volume is a detailed essay reviewing the literature in a topic related to the field. Discipline volumes contain solicited content from commissioned specific authors; being selected is an honor and authors are often recommended by their peers.

Not all subjects are covered by the series; we don't own all of the series. If you aren't sure what to use as a topic to fill in the blank, you may use the link below and browse the list.

"Who Should Read This Series?"

This is a description from a comment on the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, but the principle holds for most disciplines: the series serves people in the field, graduate students, students and the interested public who wish to keep up in an area of interest without trying to cover multiple journals and other sources at all times. The volumes can be used to amplify textbooks, and are a reliable source of information.

"The Annual Review of Environment and Resources is a useful resource for researchers and practitioners working on nature-society interactions who want and ought to know the current state of affairs on the topics reviewed, but who do not have the time to cover the individual articles in each of the dozen or so high-impact journals that would need to be read to keep up to date. This annual review is also useful to faculty and students presently using textbooks in environmental science and policy. The review articles provide updates and the most recent take on many of the same issues covered more generally in such texts. In effect, the Annual Review of Environment and Resources is a rolling textbook or desk reference about environment, resources, and society. Finally, the journal is also aimed at nonscientist readers who are professionally charged with making sense of changing environmental issues—for example, journalists, congressional and agency staff, and international organization analysts. These authoritative, up-to-date reviews provide key background information at the intersections of science and policy."

Many of them are online; some are on the shelves in the various libraries on campus. They are often indexed in the databases related to the field.

Another look at Meta-analysis