Your research question drives your entire project, and a thorough literature review can help you to identify persistent problems and current research directions to potentially pursue. Reading the papers published in your area of interest will unveil the principal researchers in your field, which provides a trail to other research by these authors, and might suggest research methods for your own work.
A thorough literature review also demonstrates academic integrity, adding value to your work and to the field as a community. Knowing what others have written before you provides context for your research, and ensures that your results contribute to the body of knowledge.
Be sure to read the future work section of papers for research ideas and, even after you have chosen your research area, keep up with related research.
Your process will evolve according to your own preferences, and you will find yourself repeating and revisiting steps as you get deeper into your research, but typically a literature involves the following steps:
Pautasso, M. Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. Ed. Philip E. Bourne. PLoS Computational Biology 9.7 (2013): e1003149.
Keeping track of and organizing information collected during research can be a little overwhelming. Organization is crucial in the context of doing research, so that you can save research articles, data, and resources -- and find them again when you need them for your papers. RefWorks or another citation management tool like Mendeley can help you to track and organize citations, and offer built-in note-taking and sharing capabilities.
Here are some tips to help you organize files and documents so that they are easy to find, whether you store them on your computer hard drive, a removable storage device (USB stick, jump drive), or in an online storage location:
Save and access information from anywhere on the Internet with cloud computing, or Internet-based storage. Some services that provide storage space that you can access from any Internet-connected browser are Evernote, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, and OneDrive. Cloud storage offers several benefits:
Of course, the down side of relying on cloud storage for your important documents is that if the cloud server experiences a problem, there is a chance that you may lose work that cannot be recovered. Privacy and security are also concerns, as putting information "out there" on the Web makes it a bit more susceptible to unauthorized use.
Storing research data in an open-access repositories provides backup and makes your data sharable and citable! (Remember that data is not copyrightable.) Some resources for finding suitable data repositories to both find and store your data are listed below:
Here's a short video from Google Apps about organizing shared files in Google Drive.
Though the scholarly resources that you will use to locate literature for your research have largely been reviewed by information professionals to determine authority and validity, often, you will need to evaluate resources yourself. It is important that you ask questions about the source of the information that you will use to determine its authority and relevance.
Evaluating information goes beyond searching Google to confirm that others believe controversial or questionable information, and should involve establishing the authority of the authors or organizations behind the information - why do we accept that this information is valid or true?
Establishing the authority of the principal information that you will use to support your research is a matter of asking a few questions.
Remember that you will often have to do some critical thinking and make your own decisions about authors' reputations, but having some information to back up your opinion is important.
What is the purpose of the resource? For which audience is the material intended? Read abstracts, introductions, or summaries. Does the author state why the material was written or who will benefit from it? Judging from the content itself, is previous knowledge of the topic or its terminology necessary, or is the material written as a basic introduction to the topic?
Is the information biased? Is it slanted toward a particular, one-sided view? Does the research seem to further a particular agenda beyond strictly providing information? Is the research commercially funded? If so, and the author represents a commercial or corporate interest, is the material slanted toward getting the reader to change viewpoint or make a purchase?
Is the information comprehensive, or do you also need to consult other resources to gain a balanced view of your topic? If the topic is a controversial issue, are all sides represented?
Is the information historical or current? Does the timeliness of the resource matter for your intended purpose? If your research involves a rapidly-evolving field, such as nanotechnology, virtual technologies, or genetic modification, you will need to be conscious of publication dates to make sure that you are finding the most current research on your topic. Do older publications provide background information, or are they simply outdated?
Scholarly research (by professors, graduate and undergraduate students, and researchers around the world) forms the foundation and the building blocks for academic, social, economic, and scientific knowledge. Results of these research endeavors are published, recorded, and preserved in primary and secondary sources such as scholarly journals; conference papers and proceedings; academic, commercial, and government reports; and patents.
The peer-review process begins when authors submit the results of their research to a journal of their choosing. The editorial board then sends the article for blind review (i.e., authors do not know who is reviewing, and reviewers do not know authors' names) by several experts in the very specific field of research represented. Articles may be accepted for publication, returned to the authors for changes before acceptance, or rejected. The process varies a bit among publications and across disciplines, but the expert review ensures that article content is accurate, the science behind it is valid, and that the information provided adds to the body of knowledge -- in essence, it builds on existing research to provide new value.
NCSU Libraries has put together an interactive anatomy that describes the main sections and characteristics of peer-reviewed articles. Click the image, and then click the parts of the article to read each description.
Ulrichsweb is a database that can tell you whether or not a journal is peer-reviewed, or refereed. Be careful though, because even when you know a journal is peer-reviewed, not all of the articles within it are. Some may be book reviews, obituaries, editorials, or news items. Recognizing what a peer-reviewed article looks like is helpful in finding the absolute best scholarly information for your own research.
In many Databases available through FIT, there is a search limiting option where you can select scholarly/peer-reviewed journals or articles only.