literature review

As mentioned in the last assignment, any literature review worth a grain of salt starts with reading peer reviewed research articles. This can be difficult with so many sources available online. Not every result that pops up on PsycINFO, Pubmed, or Google Scholar describes empirical, experimental research. Often you will also find commentaries, meta-analyses, dissertations, and conference abstracts mixed in with the results.

So, any budding researcher must be able to figure out a source’s type to know which to include in a literature review.

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Looking at a source’s visual cues and descriptions from a library catalogue or database can help you figure this out. Therefore, the goal of this assignment is to equip you to spot the differences between scholarly sources and identify the correct ones to include in your research.

First, read the following descriptions of scholarly publications:

Perspective and Opinion articles

Perspective articles are scholarly reviews of fundamental concepts or prevalent ideas in a field. These are usually essays that present a personal point of view critiquing widespread notions pertaining to a field.

where an expert in the field provides an opinion or perspective on some aspect of the research. Rather than offering a comprehensive review of research, in these articles the author offers their perspective on a concept, or multiple concepts, from the research. Opinion articles present the author’s viewpoint on the interpretation, analysis, or methods used in a particular study. It allows the author to comment on the strength and weakness of a theory or hypothesis. Opinion articles are usually based on constructive criticism and should be backed by evidence.1 Such articles promote discussion on current issues concerning science. Both opinion and perspective articles are written by more seasoned researchers and tend to be short, usually about 2,000 words. These are considered a secondary source because the author is discussing other researchers’ work.

Review articles

Research review articles provide a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing research on a specific topic. Examples are meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and literature reviews. Authors of these articles meticulously report on existing research through summarizing and analyzing, comparing, identifying common themes and gaps in the knowledge base, and providing directions for future research. These are considered a secondary source because the author is discussing other researchers’ work. Meta-analyses are quantitative, formal, epidemiological study design used to systematically assess the results of previous research to derive conclusions about that body of research. Typically, but not necessarily, a meta-analysis study is based on randomized, controlled clinical trials. Systematic reviews identify, appraises and synthesizes all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making. These are articles identify common findings and gaps and can point the reader to a whole wealth of different articles on a topic of interest to them. Research review articles typically are long, ranging anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 words.

Original or Empirical articles

Original research papers, or empirical articles, report on original experimental research. They are usually detailed studies that report research you have conducted that is original. These are classified as a primary source. Generally, these academic articles will include a hypothesis, the context, methods, results and an interpretation or discussion of those results. They follow a typical structure, including: 

  • The title, which summarizes the main idea or ideas of your study. A good title contains the fewest possible words needed to adequately describe the content and/or purpose of your research paper.
  • An abstract, which should be a very short, clear and concise summary of the entire paper. It should reveal both the purpose and conclusions of the paper.
  • The main text includes an introduction, background, research questions and hypothesis, methods, results and discussion. This section guides the reader through the problem or research question, how the study was conducted, how the data was analyzed, what was found and what it means.
  • Acknowledgements
  • References
  • Supplementary materials

These publications are typically long, ranging anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 words and may extend to 12,000 words for some journals. 

Editorials and Commentaries.

Letters to editors, as well as ‘replies’ and ‘discussions’, are usually brief comments on topical issues of public and political interest (related to the research field of the journal), anecdotal material, or readers’ reactions to material published in the journal. Commentaries are similar, though they may be slightly more in-depth, responding to articles recently published in the journal. There may be a ‘target article’ which various commentators are invited to respond to. Commentaries are short, usually around 1000-1,500 words long.

Letters, short reports, brief communications, rapid communications

Letters or short reports (sometimes known as brief communications or rapid communications) are short reports of data from original research. Editors publish these reports where they believe the data will be interesting to many researchers and could stimulate further research in the field. There are even entire journals dedicated to publishing letters. As they’re relatively short, the format is useful for researchers with results that are time sensitive. This format often has strict length limits, so some experimental details may not be published until the authors write a full original research article.

Clinical case study

Clinical case studies present the details of real patient cases from medical or clinical practice. The cases presented are usually those that contribute significantly to the existing knowledge on the field. The study is expected to discuss the signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of a disease.  These are considered primary literature and usually have a word count similar to that of an original article. Clinical case studies require a lot of practical experience and may not be a suitable publication format for early career researchers.

Theses and Dissertations

Theses and dissertations are the result of an individual student’s research while in a graduate program.  They are written under the guidance and review of an academic committee but are not considered “peer-reviewed” or “refereed” publications.  

Download, complete, and submit the Types of Scholarly Sources Worksheet

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