What counts as a good literature review

Literature research for the seminar paper,
Bachelor thesis and master thesis

The systematic literature research and the evaluation of the existing specialist literature are part of the writing of a scientific paper. Literature helps in structuring and organizing the work and in writing the text. With the help of the literature you have found and read, you can build on known knowledge and substantiate your own results with arguments. Only comprehensive knowledge of a topic enables you to develop your own new approaches to solving a scientific question.

After you have chosen the topic of your seminar paper, bachelor thesis or master thesis and have worked out initial questions and a rough breakdown, the next step is a detailed literature search on the topic. For many students, the question arises as to how best to proceed. It is important that you visit the main library of the university and the specialist library for your subject. This text explains how to research successfully, which sources still exist and how to evaluate them.

First steps in literature research

In your literature research, move from general to specific. Start with manuals and textbooks and then move on to monographs and essays. In this way you penetrate deeper and deeper into your topic. Be sure to read the literature recommendations of your supervisor if he has made a recommendation. At the beginning of a bachelor's or master's thesis, you should read a lot of literature so that you get a broad overview of your topic. It often makes sense to only read excerpts from individual works in order to save time. This is particularly useful for a seminar paper for which you have little time available. First look at the outline. Perhaps you will immediately notice bullet points that contain keywords that also appear in your topic.

When choosing the literature, pay attention to the date of publication. When doing your first literature research, give preference to new literature. After you have read the current literature and thus approximated the current state of research, you can also look at some older works or read classics. You are also welcome to use foreign-language literature, especially if you can quickly read English-language texts. It leaves a good impression on the supervisor if the bibliography of your seminar paper, bachelor thesis or master's thesis also includes literature in a foreign language.

Use different databases for literature research

A large part of your literature research will be carried out via the online catalog of the university library (OPAC). Enter the relevant search terms here, which you then vary again and again in order to get as many results as possible. Use synonyms, generic and subordinate terms in your literature search or use key words that you have found in the titles of monographs and articles as a guide.

Example of online library catalogs

http://gso.gbv.de/ (online catalog of the scientific libraries in Hamburg)

You can also find the online access of the libraries in your region via Google. Enter the name of the university or the name of the library plus the term "OPAC".

Make sure that you don't have to switch between individual databases when searching in OPAC. University libraries often separate the main library catalog, one or two catalogs for specialist libraries, and a journal database. It also makes sense to search national databases and library associations, as you can obtain works here via interlibrary loan. You can also use special databases for literature research for journal articles or online bibliographies. As a rule, you should be able to access such databases via the homepage of your university library.

In addition to what your library has to offer, the Internet offers a number of special scientific search engines such as Google Scholar or CiteSeer for literature research, which you can use to supplement your literature search.

Time limit your literature search and plan correctly

For the literature research, you should plan around four to six weeks for your thesis with a processing time of six months. The literature search is never quite over. Even when evaluating the literature and writing the thesis, you will follow up on one or the other interesting literature reference in a footnote, but the main search occurs in the weeks mentioned at the beginning of the processing time. If you have the opportunity to give your supervisor feedback and provide him with a preliminary reading list, use it. He can then point out important literature that you may have overlooked.

Plan your literature research well and always keep track of the literature found. It is best to always reserve borrowed literature immediately and place orders for interlibrary loan in good time. In the case of books that are part of the reference inventory, you can copy important passages or work with the literature on site. Always make sure that the required specialist literature is available in good time so as not to waste time unnecessarily.

When you have found literature in your local library, go to the appropriate series of rules and, if you are sorting them by subject, look at the books next to the desired book. In this way you will come across other books on your subject that you have not yet found via the catalog.

Don't just search for literature via databases

Don't just use databases for literature research. Printed bibliographies or the review of bibliographies according to the so-called pyramid scheme also provide relevant references for your thesis.