3 Approaches to Search Sources for a Literature Review

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A literature review is a stage of a Research paper that summarizes, evaluates and critiques previous studies on a particular topic. Only current and relevant sources are used. However, when analyzing the literature, researchers often state the data without questioning the integrity of the source. This reduces the effectiveness, relevance and trustworthiness of the study. Good data sources have to be selected to produce a meaningful literature review.

Good sources are often classified into;

1.      Primary Sources

2.      Secondary Sources

3.      Tertiary Sources

This classification is based on the degree of originality and proximity to the source or origin of the information. It allows the reader to identify whether the author is providing first-hand information or relaying second-hand information, such as the experiences and opinions of others. It can be difficult to tell whether a source is primary, secondary or tertiary. The three types of information are described below, along with some examples to help you make decisions.

1.      Primary Sources

These sources involve primary research journals that provide the raw material or first-hand knowledge. First-hand sources Academic or peer-reviewed journals are excellent and widely accepted sources for original research. Academic journals are the most appropriate source for literature reviews in social science and natural science papers.

The typical examples of primary sources are dissertations, research-based academic journal articles, some government reports, symposia and conference proceedings, original artworks, poems, photographs, speeches, letters, memoranda, personal essays, diaries, interviews and correspondence.

2.      Secondary Sources

These sources are third-party materials that might have been derived from primary sources. They are debates, analyses or comments on the original material. As the material is not entirely based on the original content, these sources are also permissible, but to a lesser extent than primary sources.

Textbooks, editorial works, books and articles explaining or evaluating research findings, works of history, biographies, literary criticism and interpretation, evaluations of laws and regulations, and political analyses and commentaries are some examples of secondary sources.

3.      Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are those that examine and summarize data on a specific topic. These sources primarily serve as a channel for disseminating information about information. They either list the main primary and secondary sources of information or provide a concise, user-friendly summary of the material. These sources are the least reliable for a literature review because they lack essential technical information.

Encyclopedias, non-fiction, almanacks, Wikipedia, bibliographies, directories, handbooks, textbooks and sources for indexing and abstracts are the common examples of tertiary sources.

Tips to Find Literature Review Sources

ü  The research problem should be directly addressed by the sources used in the study.

ü  To ensure that only elements that provide conceptual knowledge are included, sufficient time is spent selecting the most relevant sources.

ü  The information in the literature review sources should be drawn from primary research and secondary analytical sources.

ü  The materials used for the research should confirm the hypotheses and not provide alternative interpretations or contradictory results.


Keep a balance between the number of academic books, journal articles and other publications used in your literature review. These sources should all be as up-to-date as possible. You can find the most up-to-date samples of literature reviews in the Literature Reviews section of Research Prospect. To better understand whether you are going in the right direction, always check out the examples from any of the best literature review writing services.

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