Literature research strategy

At the beginning of week 4, you should submit a two-page document showing the strategy you have employed to locate refereed literature on your topic. This can be in tabular or graphic format, or a combination of the two. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure your literature research is as exhaustive as it needs to be without sidetracking you from the topic of your project. Use the document to discuss your literature effort with your supervisor. Only students on ph375 submit this as assessed work, but it's a worthwhile exercise anyway.

A tabular representation of your searches on Web of Knowledge could look like this:

no. query hits evaluation
1 "renewable energy" 1733 too broad - limit to one type at a time
2 "renewable energy" AND wind 322 still too broad - use likely keyword to narrow down
3 "renewable energy" AND "turbine*" 105 acceptable set
4 "renewable energy" AND solar ...
Fig.: Word cloud generated from search 3.

You also need to analyse the abstracts for common key words - these can be used to further refine your searches, but also to identify important concepts in your field. You can do this by highlighter pen on paper or by marking up keywords using text processing software, but a convenient way to get a first stab is to run a text file with the abstracts (not too many - or it'll crash your browser) through Wordle. In any case, you need to read the majority of your abstracts - a compelling reason to take some time to devise a clever search strategy!

Finally, try to group your abstracts into classes with a common sub-topic. You could represent this analysis as a graph with intersecting bubbles of different size, depending on how common a particular aspect is. Based on this, you should select a number of papers from each bubble, aiming at a broad overview of all aspects of the topic while going in depth in the most important areas closest to the topic of your own project. With a selection of perhaps 15-20 papers, which you may want to discuss with your supervisor, you can proceed to obtain the actual papers and start reading them for your literature review. You may have to come back to the search if the content of these papers suggests a new aspect that you hadn't considered previously.

In summary, your literature search document should comprise three sections:

  1. an overview of the searches with their keywords and hit numbers that you've used,
  2. an analysis of common keywords or topics in the abstracts, other than the keywords you've used yourself in the search,
  3. an analysis of correlations between topics in the abstracts, which enables you to select the most relevant papers to read.