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Study Skills: Literature Reviews and Dissertations

Books and online tutorials to help you understand, practice and improve your study skills
This guide is intended to help you as you plan your research right through to your final submission. It covers all stages from choosing a topic, writing your literature review, and keeping track of your research. For help on searching, click on the Research tab in this guide.

Find out what the current issues are by browsing through our magazines in the Library such as Art Monthly, Building, Caterer, Fire, Fitpro, Legal Action, New Scientist, Nursing Times, Nursery World, or Screen for features on new practices and projects, news and topical reports which you may decide to investigate further.  Online, you can find very recent articles by restricting your search in Discover to very current information, or limit your results to Trade (Practitioner) Magazines which tend to have more news and commentary. You can often sign up to a weekly emails from organisations or publications that your lecturers or librarians have recommended.  

If you know the area you are interested in, revisit some of your textbooks. Many contain case studies or discussion questions that you can use to get ideas.  Find recent editions of books on your topic which will discuss the latest research and debates.   Most textbooks include key articles at the end of each chapter - it might be worth reading a few of these to get ideas. 

Once you have identified a topic, log on to Discover and run some basic searches to see how much research is available on your topic. This will help you narrow down your ideas and start working out some possible research questions.  For more advice on how to devise a research question, the following textbooks may be helpful:  

A literature review is a survey of all the significant research that has been published on your topic.  You can use it to identify current issues or problems that you would like to research further, and show that you understand the background to your topic.  It is also useful to read how other researchers have carried out their research - how they gathered primary research, their methods of analysis, any problems they encountered - as well as what their findings were. You can see how theories have been applied to real life situations, and perhaps decide to use similar methodologies or approaches in your own research. 

Remember that you are not expected to read everything that has ever been published on your topic.  Read selectively, and only discuss the research that directly applies to your topic or that contributes to your understanding.  You may want to narrow your research by:

  • Date:  does the article report on recent research?  You may decide to focus on articles that have been published in the last 5 years, unless there are older key texts in your field
  • Recommended texts: has the article or author been mentioned by your supervisor, or has it been cited by other authors in their own research (check if an article has been cited by using Google Scholar or Emerald)
  • Relevance:  does the article match more than one of your keywords?
  • Location: do you want to only read research published in the UK?
  • Authority: you should ensure that you review mainly at scholarly information rather than websites or news articles. 

You will not have time to properly read every article that you find in a database search to select which articles to review.  Get used to scanning articles or reading just the abstract to decide if it is relevant.

Finally, remember that a Literature Review is not a summary of every article.  Once you have selected the best articles for your review, read through them carefully and identify the sections that are relevant. When you are writing your review, use sub-headings to identify themes, and use the sections of the articles you have identified as evidence in your discussion - noting where authors agree or disagree on a topic, where findings differ, and linking them to form an argument. There is a good discussion on how to write a literature review in the books listed below which include examples and ideas to organise your approach. 

It can be difficult to know where to start when reading an article. Getting familiar with the structure of scholarly articles will help you understand the purpose of each section, how the argument of the author is developed, and which sections need closer reading.

We suggest that you focus on certain key sections (identified with a *), to decide if the article is useful. Next, scan read the article to get the gist of the argument, before reading more closely.

This help-sheet identifies the sections that you will find in most scholarly articles.

Journal title Is the journal scholarly? Does it match the discipline you’re working in?
You may want to look up journal the title to find more about it.
Article title This will help you decide whether the article relates to your research. It may also tell you what sort of article it is, such as a case study, primary research, literature review.
Author / Institution Make a note of the institution that the author is from. Are they from a UK university, a company or a think tank for example.
Date of publication Is the article current? This may not be a concern if the article is a key text.
Abstract * This is the synopsis or summary of the article. It normally tells you the research question, purpose of the research, methods used to collect data, and a summary of the conclusion. It’s best to read this first to help you decide whether to continue reading.
Introduction * This will introduce the problem that the research is intended to address. It will include the ‘research question’ - the “why” reason for the research, which usually comes at the end of the introduction. If there is no separate literature review, you will find previous research discussed here.
Literature Review This is where the author discusses previous research in the context of their own research question. They may use it to breakdown their research question into themes. This section is useful as it gives a succinct overview on what has already been discussed on the topic.
Methodology section This is the “how” section where the author(s) describe the methods used to collect data, which can be primary (surveys, interviews) or secondary (literature review). Use this to assess the findings of the research as it will help you decide if the results are credible.
Results and
You may find results and discussion in one section, or separately discussed. You may want to use these results in your own report or decide if you agree with the interpretation of the results.
Conclusion * This is probably the next most important section to read after the abstract.
It will tell you what the findings were and how they relate to the research question. Use this to decide if the article is relevant to your research.
References and
All scholarly articles should have a reference list. This will show you if the authors are building on previous knowledge. Also you can follow up references which look relevant to your research

Ask yourself the following questions

1. Have the authors explained why they carried out this research? (check the abstract or introduction)

2. What methods did the researcher use for collecting data? Are they appropriate? How did they decide who to investigate? (check the method section)

3. Are the main findings stated clearly? (check the results section)

4. Does the research add any new information to what is already known on the topic? (check the discussion/ conclusion)

There are many tools to help you organise your work.  You can save references in Word which can be easily imported as citations or into bibliographies. You can create profiles in Discover, EBSCO databases and Emerald to save items to view later, and export citations.  If you have a large number of articles, websites and book records to keep track of, we recommend you start using referencing software.  Using something like Menderley will allow you to create your own online library, where you can store and manage everything you want to keep in one place, saving you time.  Referencing software allows you to:

  • Collect, store and manage references in folders
  • Manage via a web account which is accessible via any device linked to the Internet
  • Easily cite references and create bibliographies in a range of reference styles
  • Link directly to the full-text or PDF of the document. 
  • Add personal notes or highlight text

For links and guidance, click on the tab on Referencing management software. 


Which Referencing Management Tool?


There are many tools to help you organise your work.  You can save references in Word which can be easily imported as citations or into bibliographies. You can create profiles in Discover to save items to view later, and export citations (this will include Emerald references).  If you have a large number of articles, websites and book records to keep track of, we recommend you start using referencing software.  Using something like Menderley will allow you to create your own online library, where you can store and manage everything you want to keep in one place, saving you time.  Referencing software allows you to:

  • Collect, store and manage references in folders
  • Manage via a web account which is accessible via any device linked to the Internet
  • Easily cite references and create bibliographies in a range of reference styles
  • Link directly to the full-text or PDF of the document. 
  • Add personal notes or highlight text

Some referencing management tools also have social networking features. 

Which referencing management tool is best for you?  The chart below may answer some of your questions, or click on the tabs for more detailed information and guides. 

Name of Software Use this for Notes
Microsoft Word - References tool                                                   Adding citations and references to your Word document as you write. Add details of the publication using a simple form with source types such as Book, Journal Article and Website. Select the output style (eg.Harvard). Can also generate bibliographies.  Good for shorter assignments and encourages you to keep track of all your references.                                      
Discover and Emerald folders Saving articles to folders which can then be easily accessed at any time. Create hierarchical folders to organise articles by module and topic. Provides a Cite feature so you can copy and paste references in the correct format.  Citations can be exported into Menderley or Zotero.  Good for easily retrieving articles which are available from Discover.
Menderley Adding documents that you have saved on your computer using drag-and-drop, or install the web importer to directly import from the web.  Organise articles into folders.  Menderley saves PDF versions where available so you can have an online library. You can also save directly to Menderley from Emerald.  Saves PDFs and offers a number of social features.


This is a very useful tool within Microsoft word and is worth getting familiar with as soon as you start writing your first assignment. 

In-text citation

Along the top of your Word document you will see tab called References (you may be familiar with using this to add footnotes).  To add an in-text citation, put your cursor at the point where you want your reference to appear. Click on References and choose Harvard.   Select Insert Citation.  Choose Add New Source. Choose the type of source that you are citing - book, journal article, web-site etc. Then fill in the details.  Once you have saved your citation, the information will be available for you to use again. 

Bibliography / Reference List

Once you have added your citations, you can create a bibliography with that information. Put the cursor where you want the bibliography to go, then select References and choose a format. Then click on Bibliography and click on Insert Bibliography.

Adding new citations

If you add new citations to your document, you can update your bibliography by right clicking anywhere in your list and selecting Update Field. 

What are folders in Discover?

When you search Discover (or any ESBCOhost database such as SocIndex or Business Source) you will notice that a small folder icon appears next to all your search results.  This icon allows you to save your results into folders which you can access any time you log into any EBSCO database.  

In Discover you also have the option to save and re-run searches, and set up search and journal alerts so you can keep researching even when you’re not logged in.

Saving items to your Folder

Start your search.  Remember you can limit your search by Date of Publication, by Source (Academic Journals, Magazines, Trade Publications, Books), and by Subject, Language, and more.


To save individual records, click on the Add to Folder image next to each record. If you have already created folders, you will be given the option to save the record in any of those folders. Otherwise, just save to My Folder. 

Viewing your folder

View your folder by either clicking on Folder View in the top right of the screen, or the My Folder icon in the top bar.  You should see a list of all the records that you have saved and you can access the full-text from here.

The My Custom feature provides the ability to create numerous folders, each on a particular topic, in which various results can be stored.  You can also create sub-folders to manage more results.  Click on the New link to the right of the My Custom link. You will see a Create New Folder Screen to enter your topic name and a description if you wish.

You can now move your results to the new folder by clicking in the box beside the title of the result, and clicking on the Move To drop down list. You will see a list of your folders displayed.

From Folder View, you can go back to your search results by clicking on the back button.

For more information on Folders, click on the Question mark next to your name in the top left of the screen.

Printing, Email and Saving Your Results.

You can Print, Email, or Save your results.  You can also export to referencing software such as Zotero and EndNote Web. If you have Mendeley Desktop on your device, you can also download to there.   Click on the icons to the right of the screen.  .

About Menderley
Before you get started, this terminology from the Menderley help site is very useful.
  • Mendeley Desktop: Mendeley Desktop is the downloaded part of the software installed onto your computer. Download Mendeley Desktop here.
  • Mendeley Web: This is the Mendeley website where you can access the web version of your library, edit your profile and search for papers, groups or people. You can also access Mendeley's social features.
  • Sync: The process of synchronizing your Mendeley data across devices.
  • Web Importer: The browser bookmarklet that lets you quickly import documents from anywhere on the web.
  • Word Citation Plugin: A plugin you can install that allows you to create and format your citations and bibliography according to your chosen style.

Starting Out

  1. Create an account at, download Desktop to your main PC or laptop and sign in.  
  2. You will see the Desktop interface - the main window is your 'library'.  From here you can drag files from your computer or add them from the File menu, create folders and organise records into different folders, and open PDF documents directly within the library.  
  3. Add the Web importer.  This will allow you to add documents from anywhere on the web.  All new documents will go directly into the Recently Added folder but you can also select a pre-existing folder if you have already created one. 
  4. Remember to sync documents to send your library to the cloud, so you can access all your content from other devices. 

The Mendeley video below is a 1 minute introduction to Mendeley.  More help videos are available on their YouTube site here

Uploading articles from Discover

If you find an article you want to save in your Discover results, click on the Export option in the right hand column.  Click on the first option (Direct export in RIS format) and select Save.  You will see the export file download (and which will also appear in your downloads folder):  click on that and the reference will be imported into Mendeley Desktop.  Note that Mendeley doesn't need to be open but it does need to be installed on the machine that you are using. 

Uploading webpages or PDFs from the Internet - in progress

Creating citations and bibliographies - in progress

Find Related Research - in progress

Collaboration and Sharing Tools - in progress



Dissertations and Project Reports