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LGS-SOAR Humanities and Social Science Research Methods

Summer 2023

Find Out What's Already Been Done

Begin your literature review as soon as possible. Ideally, you already started doing some research while refining and adjusting your topic idea.

What is a literature review?

A literature review provides an overview of the scholarly literature (e.g. books, articles, dissertations, proceedings) relevant to an area of research or theory. The review typically will include a summary of the major questions in a area and critical evaluations of work that has already been done. Literature reviews are also helpful for their comprehensive bibliographies. This webpage by the UC Santa Cruz Library does a good job of explaining lit reviews.

Literature reviews typically include these components:

  • An overview of the subject
  • Organization of relevant publications into subtopics, theoretical areas, or key debates
  • An analysis and discussion of how various works relate to one another the the relevant questions
  • A discussion of unresolved questions or future directions
  • Some will also include discussions of key data collection and analysis methodologies

The following two resources are great places to start when compiling a comprehensive bibliography.

Also consult reference works, encyclopedias, and handbooks to identify relevant terminology.

Searching Comprehensively

Create a Search Strategy

  • Try different keywords and search terms using different databases and catalogs. Every database is different so some keywords and search terms work for one database but not for another.
  • Keep a record of which search terms worked and in which databases. This can keep you from repeating your steps.
  • Expand your search:
    • Include synonyms and plural/singular forms of keywords. Separate synonyms by OR. Separate the synonyms from the rest of the words by using parentheses.
    • Use truncation symbols (or wildcard symbols) to include variations of your search terms (e.g. scien$ will search for sciences, scientific, scientifically, etc.).
  • Narrow your search:
    • Combining different concepts/search terms with AND
    • Use the limit functions of the database. These are often located on the left side of the results page, or look in the database's Help menu to discover the limit functions it offers. Possibilities include limiting by date, language, type of article, etc.
  • Did you find an article you really like? Then, pay close attention to the cited references (a.k.a. bibliography, end notes, footnotes) to find similar articles. This can bias your project by focusing on only one side of an issue so use caution with this method.
  • Ask for help. Ask a librarian for search tips. Also, use the help screens in the databases for instructions and tips.

Search Databases and Catalogs

The library catalog and these databases are good places to start for most social science projects:

  • Scopus or Web of Science - Two interdisciplinary databases that cover science, technology, medicine, social sciences, and arts and humanities.
  • JSTOR - Access to a wide variety of journal articles in the humanities, social sciences, and area studies.
  • Academic Search Complete - Access broad ranging resources that include full-text journals, monographs, reports, conference proceedings, and video content from the Associate Press.

For more options, such as area studies databases and other specialized resources or indexes, look for a Research Guide relevant to your subject (e.g. Anthropology Research Guide) or search/browse  Databases @ Emory.

Need help?

Contact a Subject Librarian.

Understanding Citations and Finding Sources


How do you know if Emory Libraries provides access to the item you need?

1. Determine the type of item (e.g. a book, book chapter, journal article). There are clues in the citation that will help you verify the type of item.

The style of a citation (i.e., italics, bold, parentheses) are not always an indication of the information you’re looking at.  For example, just because something is italicized does not automatically mean you are looking at a journal title.

  • A journal article citation will include author(s), 2 titles (one for the article; one for the journal), volume and page numbers, publication date, and possibly a DOI or other information.

Oliver, Mary Beth and Stephen Green.Development of gender differences in children's responses to animated entertainment.” 
Sex Roles 45, no.1-2 (Jul 2001): 67-88.

  • A book chapter citation will contain author(s) of the chapter, editor(s) of the book, 2 titles (one for the chapter; the other for the entire book), publisher information (publication place and publishing company), a publication date, and page numbers of the chapter. E-book chapters can also have a DOI so don't let that fool you into thinking it's a journal article.

Turow, Joseph. “Family Boundaries, Commercialism, and the Internet: A Framework for Research.”  Children in the Digital Age: Influences of Electronic Media on Development. Eds. Sandra L. Calvert and Amy B. Jordan. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 2002. 215-230.

  • A book citation will contain the author(s), one title, publisher information (publication place and publishing company), and the publication date.

O'Barr, William M. Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising.  Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994.

2. Now that you know what kind of material you are looking for, you have an idea of where to look.

  • If you have a book or chapter citation, search the Emory library catalog. The chapter title may be too specific for a catalog search.
  • If you have a journal article citation, search the either the library catalog or ejournals for the title of the journal. The article title will be too specific. Ejournals only searches for electronic content so use the catalog to also find volumes that we have on paper.

3. Can you think of a shorter way of doing this?

  • Hint: Look at the options in the configuring your computer section.