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Counseling Research Guide

An online reference guide for students, faculty, and staff in the Counseling Department.

Literature Review Overview

A literature review involves both the literature searching and the writing. The purpose of the literature search is to:

  • reveal existing knowledge
  • identify areas of consensus and debate
  • identify gaps in knowledge
  • identify approaches to research design and methodology
  • identify other researchers with similar interests
  • clarify your future directions for research

List above from Conducting A Literature Search, Information Research Methods and Systems, Penn State University Libraries

A literature review provides an evaluative review and documentation of what has been published by scholars and researchers on a given topic. In reviewing the published literature, the aim is to explain what ideas and knowledge have been gained and shared to date (i.e., hypotheses tested, scientific methods used, results and conclusions), the weakness and strengths of these previous works, and to identify remaining research questions: A literature review provides the context for your research, making clear why your topic deserves further investigation.

Before You Search

  1. Select and understand your research topic and question.
  2. Identify the major concepts in your topic and question.
  3. Brainstorm potential keywords/terms that correspond to those concepts.
  4. Identify alternative keywords/terms (narrower, broader, or related) to use if your first set of keywords do not work.
  5. Determine (Boolean*) relationships between terms.
  6. Begin your search.
  7. Review your search results.
  8. Revise & refine your search based on the initial findings.

*Boolean logic provides three ways search terms/phrases can be combined, using the following three operators: AND, OR, and NOT.

Search Process

The type of information you want to find and the practices of your discipline(s) drive the types of sources you seek and where you search.

For most research you will use multiple source types. Depending on your discipline(s), sources of interest may include: annotated bibliographies; articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers; books; blogs; conference papers; data sets; dissertations; organization, company, or government reports; reference materials; systematic reviews; archival materials; curriculum materials; and more. It can be helpful to develop a comprehensive approach to the types of sources you need and where you will search for each kind. Below are some steps you might include in your approach.

Utilize Current Awareness Services  Identify and browse current issues of the most relevant journals for your topic; Setup email alerts, e.g., Journal Table of Contents, Saved Searches

Consult Experts  Identify and search for the publications of or contact counselors, educators, scholars, librarians, employees etc. at relevant organizations, agencies, and practices


  • Annual Reviews and Bibliographies  e.g., Annual Review of Developmental Psychology
  • Internet  e.g., Discussion Groups, Listservs, Blogs, social networking sites
  • Grant Databases  e.g., Foundation Directory Online,
  • Conference Proceedings and Abstracts  e.g., American Educational Research Association Online Paper Repository, American School Counselor Association Annual Conference Schedule
  • Newspaper Indexes  e.g., Access World News, Ethnic NewsWatch
  • Journal Indexes/Databases and EJournal Packages  e.g., Wiley Online Library
  • Citation Indexes  e.g., PsycINFO, ERIC (Education Resources Information Center)
  • Specialized Data  e.g., The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center
  • Book Catalogs  e.g., local library catalog or discovery search, WorldCat
  • Library Web Scale Discovery Service  e.g., OneSearch
  • Web Search Engines
  • Digital Collections  e.g., Archives & Special Collections Digital Collections, Digital Public Library of America
  • Videos  e.g., Counseling and Therapy in Video (streaming database)
  • Associations/Community groups/Institutions/Organizations  e.g., American Counseling Association, Montana Office of Public Instruction

Remember there is no one portal for all information!