The search for literature represents a crucial step in conducting high-quality research. It is fundamental for helping a researcher formulate study questions and plan research in accordance with its aims and objectives. Given the fact that the volumes of published data are highly extensive, choosing the appropriate literature for a study in question is a matter of rigor and investing tremendous interest in the process.
Moreover, searching for literature can be time-consuming and tiring, with the potential of research being abandoned if not carried out wisely and effectively. Therefore, it is imperative to look at the process of literature search critically in order to differentiate between effective and ineffective means as well as reflect on the previous experiences of dealing with the issue.
A literature search represents a systematic and well-organized process of inquiry targeted at choosing appropriate research data that would aid in research on a specific topic (Charrois 2015).
The reasons for conducting a literature search are varied and can range from the need to draw information for evidence-based guidelines to the objective of implementing an assessment of academic evidence. Although, the critical utility of extensive literature searches is associated with formulating a specific research question through the appraisal and analysis of available evidence, with focus placed on gaps that exist in research.
Given the complexity and the multi-dimensional nature of literature research, there are various methods used to pursue the aim that can be used either separately or in conjunction with one another. In the past several decades, the search for literature has been associated with visiting both local and national libraries to find books, journals, as well as other printed materials that would aid in answering a particular study question.
Today, as technologies have advanced, the Internet represents the key tool for facilitating a literature search (Alcácer & Cruz-Machado 2019). With the availability of such web-based search engines as Google Scholar, it is now possible to gain access to large volumes of data without the need to search in libraries. In addition, various electronic research databases offer an opportunity to identify materials that are relevant to study topics.
Types of literature search vary depending on the way in which it is conducted. For example, scholars may translate a research question to keywords in order to acquire results that are word-specified. Alternate terms and synonyms are used for eliciting further information, thus facilitating a broader look on a search problem (Grewal, Kataria & Dhawan 2016). Therefore, a researcher is expected to formulate the search terms specifically in other to get the desired results.
Phrase search can also be used, and with the help of Boolean operators (and, or, not), it is possible to search for articles containing the necessary subjects. Using the ‘and’ operator in the search will provide the results containing both words, the ‘or’ operator will give results that mention either keyword. Using the term ‘not’ in the search when combining words will provide articles within a narrowed set of results. This means that in order to find the desired articles in the designated topic area, a researcher is expected to understand which terms should be used and how they should be combined.
Based on the literature searches conducted for previous projects, a crucial takeaway from experience is associated with the importance of peer reviews in scholarly literature. “Peer review is defined as a process of subjecting a scholarly work of an author to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field” (Kelly, Sadeghieh & Adeli 2014, p. 228). Peer reviews are necessary for encouraging authors to reach the desired high standards of discipline as well as to guide the dissemination of research to eliminate the existence of unwarranted claims, biased views and unacceptable interpretations (Kelly et al. 2014).
Searching for peer-reviewed studies to be used in further research is vital because of the need to ensure that papers can help in answering the previously formulated research question. Because the submission of low-quality manuscripts has become highly prevalent, it is necessary to conduct review acts as filtering means to prevent them from reaching the scientific community (Kelly et al. 2014).
Therefore, when researchers search for literature to use in studies, they should pay attention to the peer review component. This way, one can safeguard research from adding plagiarised or poorly studied information (Allen et al. 2019). However, it is essential to note that there is no foolproof system that would prevent the publication of non-peer-reviewed articles. This means that scholars searching for literature should pay attention to the quality indicators of information.
Reflecting on the process of literature search, it can be inferred that the procedure is unique and differs from one study to another, depending on the subject matter, the intentions of researchers, as well as the volumes of available data (Cooper, Booth, Varley-Campbell, Britten & Garside 2018). For example, when studying the subject of applying Artificial Intelligence to smart city domains to facilitate cybersecurity and adversarial behaviors, it was imperative to find a gap in research in order to fill it with the help of the study.
As the topic of AI application is complex and innovative, the search for literature is intended to identify the information that has already been published and add to it with the help of answering the identified research questions. Ensuring that the information found for the study is applicable to the research questions is vital for making the research contribution unique and beneficial to closing the gap in available research. The reflection on research on the topic showed that it was essential to view a study subject in the context of available information.
Another critical example related to the literature search is the essential project of analysis of research approach and philosophy. The analysis included five academic studies from journals with the aim of outlining the strategies and philosophical standpoints used from undertaking studies presented in the articles. For this purpose, the process of literature search shows special importance because of the need to find relevant and high-quality studies that could be comprehensively assessed.
As one of the aspects of analysis, it was necessary to identify the elements of the study design framework, which includes philosophy, research design, research techniques and methods, as well as sources of data collection and analysis. These components were necessary to consider because they are essential for understanding the overall strategy taken by scholars in the research articles intended for analysis.
For example, if a scholar chose a positivist approach to a study, it is expected to find quantitative-deductive surveys as they are consistent with the philosophical view. Therefore, the search for literature on a chosen topic implies not only the identification of studies but also the evaluation of their potential influence on a study project.
As evidenced by previous projects, conducting a literature review is among the main reasons why the search for studies is carried out. When a scholar finds high-quality peer-reviewed materials, it is possible to write a literature review on a chosen topic. A literature review represents a type of academic writing that offers an account of what has already been published by researchers. The aim of a literature review is to increase the overall knowledge about a certain topic, improve the skills of information searching, identify gaps in knowledge and expand the ability to appraise literature critically (Munn et al. 2018).
Information seeking skills develop when scholars scan the literature effectively and efficiently, differentiating between the sources that will be useful and not useful can be more manageable. When conducting literature reviews for previous projects, it was learned to make a division between high-quality studies that can be used in further research and those studies that can add confusion to literature reviews. This was possible through the previous identification of areas of controversy in the literature, the exclusion of non-peer-reviewed materials and the synthesis of the literature.
Moreover, being organised during the literature search is important for yielding the results that would be the most beneficial to research. Developing a step-by-step process associated with a literature search will provide an examination with a comprehensive framework that would facilitate finding the studies to use in further reviews (Ramdhani, Ramdhani & Amin 2014). Thus, the organisational aspect of the literature search is the key advantage developed as a result of previous projects.
In terms of the weaknesses associated with the literature search, the aspect of critical appraisal should be mentioned. While it is easy to find studies that pertain to a chosen study topic, it is also important to critically appraise it in order to determine whether it is suitable for further use. The process of critical appraisal is associated with the systematic and careful assessment of scientific research outcomes for judging trustworthiness, relevance and value within particular contexts.
Due to the abundance of research on different subjects, it is important for researchers to know how to review information critically. The project on a critical literature review helped to develop the necessary skills of critical appraisal; however, these skills should be developed further in order for the researcher to be genuinely effective.
To conclude the reflection, it should be mentioned that the process of the literature search is highly complex and unique, which means that it will differ from one context to another. Being prepared for the process and identify its aims is vital for having a framework to facilitate the search for literature. It is also imperative to pay attention to the quality aspect of literature as related to peer reviews.
Subjecting research to peer assessments is fundamental for preventing the publishing of substantiated or plagiarised materials. Appraising information to identify its usefulness in research is also important for scholars as it will eventually facilitate the use of literature found as a result of the search. Being involved in regular searchers and literature appraisals is expected to develop effective and efficient skills in further research.
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