Engaging with the literature

Getting started

Library, Teaching and Learning offer a range or resources to help you understand your topic and develop a search strategy. Online activities and resources, workshops, one-on-one appointments and drop in times (no appointment necessary) are available, or ask at the Welcome desk located in the library.

Book into a Workshop

Information Sources

The following are good places to begin your search:

Try our tutorial on Database searching.

If you come across a resource that is not available through us, we may be able to get it for you through Interlibrary Loans – a service for Staff and post-graduate students. Or maybe you think the resource would be a good addition to our collection? If so, you can it suggest it for purchase.

Literature Review

What is a literature review?

  • An introduction to literature reviews: purpose, creating a structure, and incorporating sources

Structuring a literature review

  • How to develop a clear structure in a literature review (video from RMIT University)

Literature reviews

  • How to scope and structure a review (from Australian National University)

Peer review

Not all information is created equal. It’s important to consider where your information is coming from, and it’s validity in an academic setting. You need to make a distinction between scholarly and popular material. We’ve outline the most popular sources and their identifying features below:

What is peer review?

Peer review is a scholarly process whereby articles intended to be published in an academic journal are reviewed by independent experts to evaluate the importance, originality and accuracy of an article. The terms scholarly, peer reviewed and academic article are often used interchangeably.

How to identify peer reviewed journals:

Popular magazines are written for a general audience and contain current news.

Trade magazines are written for professionals who need to keep up with important trends, techniques or product information in a particular field.

Scholarly journals are of academic standard, containing articles written by scholars or experts in their field, and are intended for a scholarly audience. The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report original research or experiments.

Note: Not everything published in scholarly journals is appropriate to use as a resource for research. Book reviews, editorials, or short news items do not count as “scholarly articles”.

Peer-reviewed journal is one very important type of scholarly journal. An article is published after receiving approval by a board of experts (the author’s “peers”) and is therefore referred to as a “peer reviewed” article. These experts will critically examine the article’s methodology, literature review, discussion, results, and conclusion.Note: Even though a particular journal is peer reviewed, an individual article in that journal may not be.

Check out our information on identifying peer reviewed articles.


The majority of journals that you find in the Library databases are respected and many will be refereed, for example databases such as CAB, Web of Science, Scopus, ScienceDirect, JSTOR are assumed to be scholarly.

Some of the databases allow you to limit your search to scholarly and/or peer-reviewed journals. Databases using Limit option include: Proquest databases; General OneFile; Expanded Academic ASAP.

Check with Library staff if you are unclear about which database to use.

Scholarly versus popular

View a table showing the features of scholarly popular and trade journals.

Peer-reviewed articles follow a certain format that includes an abstract, analysis of original research and a reference list. Opinion pieces and book reviews also appear in peer-reviewed journals so the format can help identify research articles. There is no comprehensive source for identifying all peer-reviewed journals.

  • Refer to the journal itself, either in print or on the website. Most journals include that information in the guide for authors or editorial policies pages.
  • Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory (Vol. 5), held in the Collection Management Office, lists the major peer-reviewed journals. (Not sure about this one)

Visit the online peer review tutorial or check with Library staff.


This is a guide for evaluating your information sources: books, journal articles, newspaper or magazine, encyclopaedia, web site, pamphlet, government publication, thesis or any other source you are using for your assignments or research. Familiarise yourself with the following criteria:


Questions to consider

  • Who has written the item?
  • What are their credentials, experience, background?
  • What else has this author written?
  • What is the author’s reputation among his/her peers?
  • Have you seen the author’s name cited in other sources or bibliographies?
  • Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization?
  • Who is the publisher?
  • Is the publisher a commercial or academic organization?

Possible answers

  • Search the author’s name in a search engine such as Google.
  • Encylopaedias and Who’s Who can offer useful background information


Questions to consider

  • Is there a particular bias?
  • Does the author state the goals of the publication, e.g. to educate or inform; persuade or advocate?
  • If the author is affiliated to a particular organisation is the evident in the content?

Possible answers

  • Read the foreword, preface, abstract, introduction, or conclusion of the work


Questions to consider

  • Is content central or peripheral to your topic?
  • Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?
  • Does it include photographs, illustrations, maps, bibliography?
  • Is there a geographical limit?
  • Is there an historical time period?

Possible answers

  • Look for possible gaps – does the content match the title of the item or information in the introduction
  • Compare item to other sources found and explore variety of viewpoints


Questions to consider

  • Does the work address your research question or meet the requirements of your assignment?
  • Is the material primary or secondary in nature?
    Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources
  • Is the item considered scholarly or popular?

Possible answers


Questions to consider

  • What type of audience is the author addressing?
  • Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience?
  • Is the source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

Possible answers

  • Check the table of contents, chapter headings etc
  • Read the preface, introduction and/or conclusion


Questions to consider

  • Is information current?
  • Does it provide the proper historical context for your research needs?
  • Has this source been revised, updated, or expanded in a subsequent edition?

Possible answers

  • Check the date of publication
  • If a web page check the date the page was created and/or last updated.

Keeping Current

For researchers alerts are an ideal way to keep up with new content in your favourite journals or to be notified when new content on your subject is added to the database. For lecturers a search alert can provide you with new information for student assignments, e.g. for short loan or workbooks.

Email Alerts

Many databases and journal publishers provide an alerting service via email. When a new journal issue is published and/or when articles on a particular topic are added to a database you are sent an email.


RSS Feeds

Many e-journals, databases and websites now have RSS feeds as a means of alerting users to new content on their sites. RSS feeds deliver updates to subscribers in the form of a list of headlines, each containing a description and link to the related web page.

To use the feeds you will need a browser capable of bookmarking live feeds (such as Firefox and Internet Explorer 7+) or an RSS reader. There are a number of web-based RSS readers available such as Inoreader.

How do I know if an e-journal or database has RSS feeds available?
Look for this symbol RSS symbol

E-journals or websites providing RSS feeds will generally advertise feeds for news or general update alerts on their homepage.

Library Alerts

Keeping Current with People


  • A social networking service that allows you to stay connected to the lastest information of interest to you.
  • Follow the @LincolnULibrary Twitter account.

Professional organizations and associations

  • Associations on the Net: Professional and trade associations in a wide range of subject areas.
  • IdeaList: Nonprofit and community organisations around the world.
  • International Organization and NGO Web Sites: from the Union of International Organizations
  • ResearcherID: a Web of Knowledge service that allows you to create your own profile and manage and share professional information.
  • Scholarly Societies Project


Electronic mailing lists of people who wish to receive specified information from the Internet.

  • CataList: a catalogue of LISTSERV lists

Other Alerts


  • Conference Alerts: academic and professional conferences including New Zealand


  • Library PressDisplay (NZ and International)
  • ProQuest (U.S)
  • General OneFile (U.S)

New Internet Resources

  • Internet Scout
  • SearchNZ