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Doing a Literature Search - Book Review

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by Erin (subscribe)
I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published January 25th 2013
A resource for the social sciences
Upon entering postgraduate study, most students have already had some experience with searching through literature and constructing bibliographies; however, many students may be unfamiliar with performing the more advanced literature search required for postgraduate dissertations. The vast amount of literature available on any topic may seem overwhelming and inaccessible at the beginning of a project. Doing a Literature Search: A Comprehensive Guide for the Social Sciences by Chris Hart intends to reduce the anxiety surrounding a literature search by explaining the basics behind a search and providing tools for the student to effectively sort through the material.

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The book's strength is in its thoroughness in addressing the topic. It is divided into three main sections: Basic Knowledge, Literature Types, and Electronic Resources. The first section provides concrete details of the requirements for a search and straightforward advice on managing and planning a search. The next section provides information on finding different types of literature ranging from books and journals to grey literature (i.e. unpublished and often difficult to obtain materials). The final section provides both basic and advanced techniques to search the internet for resources. The book also contains thorough and comprehensive links to libraries, databases, and electronic texts for each type of literature.

The book assumes no previous knowledge of literature searching and some of the basic principles of the book, such as a section titled "what is the internet," are not entirely useful for a postgraduate audience. At some points in my reading, I found myself skimming through the recommendations, as they were tasks I had already incorporated into my methodology purely out of common sense. For example, the author spends several pages discussing the importance of locating where topic-related books are shelved in the library. However, I was able to overlook these minor faults, as there is mostly good material in the book amidst some extemporaneous discourses.

The author admits that "there is no set way of going about a search" and this book is a well-organised and clear attempt to provide students with effective tools and direction in navigating the literature search. Those students with no experience in literature searching will find this book to be an invaluable resource, while more experienced students will appreciate the advanced techniques provided in the final section of the book and the lengthy guides to databases.
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Why? A resource that promises to help postgraduate students effectively manage their research.
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