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The Literature Review: For Dissertations

For graduate students interested in first steps to consider when starting a literature review for their dissertation.

Literature to Review

When considering literature to review, it's important to understand that different types of information sources may be critical for particular disciplines. Below are examples of different types of information sources to consider. Depending on your discipline, you may need to consider more than one type of source. Additionally, necessary information may be available in various formats (such as print, electronic, microfilm, and other media). Please contact your subject librarian for additional guidance on information sources appropriate to your research.


  • Books can provide reference information, broad introductions to topics, in-depth treatments of specific topics, and can even serve as primary source material, depending on their content.
  • Books can be scholarly or popular, so consider what type of information you need when selecting books for review.  
  • Books can be found in catalogs such as the U-M Library catalog and Worldcat, a union catalog containing millions of records cataloged by OCLC member libraries. 
  • Catalogs can be searched by author name, titles words or phrases, Library of Congress Subject Headings, Keywords, ISBN numbers, and other identifiers.
  • Books not available locally can be requested via Interlibrary Loan.

Reference Materials

  • Reference materials contain reputable background and quick information on specific topics and are rarely read front to back.
  • Examples of reference works include dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, standards, cookbooks, handbooks, directories, etc.  
  • References can orient users to basic information, to experts in a particular discipline, and to specialized vocabulary used in particular disciplines. Reference works are rarely cited in academic literature.

Scholarly Journal Articles

  • Scholarly journal articles are written by scholars to communicate information with other experts in the same field or discipline, and often use specialized language used by scholars in the same field or discpline. 
  • Scholarly articles are produced in a standard, formal format and usually list the scholarly affiliations of the authors
  • They almost always include references to literature consulted by the authors
  • They are often peer-reviewed and edited by editors with scholarly credentials
  • They can be found by searching appropriate library article indexes (such as Web of Science) or discovery tools (such as U-M Library Articles Search), by browsing the contents of scholarly journals that serve the needs of a particular topic or discipline, or by reading through the cited references at the end of other articles.


  • Patents are documents that describe a person's or an organization's legal right to exclusively use or create an invention.  
  • The Patents and Trademarks Research Guide explains how to search for patents.

Data Sets

Archival Collections

  • Archival materials may include personal papers, manuscripts, diaries, posters, fliers, maps and other primary sources. Locating archives and finding materials available takes time, patiences and many times help from a librarian.  The University of Michigan Library subscribes to many online archive finding tools and resources. For help locating archives consult the Library Research Guide Locating Archives and Manuscripts


  • The University of Michigan Library provides access to over a thousand newspapers in a variety of formats. Some recent news is available temporarily in print but most newspapers are either available in microfilm or online. These include international newspapers and historical newspapers. See the library page on newspapers for more information and consult the Library Research Guide News Sources for extensive information on finding news. 


  • Magazines can be a rich source of cultural and anthropological research material. The library offers many magazines in print, microfilm and online. See the Library Research Guide The History of Magazines in America for further help. 

Government documents

  • The United States Government Printing Office has and continues to produce a great deal of information useful to researchers each day. Congress, the Supreme Court, the Office of the President and federal agencies can be rich sources of policy information, legislation and historical records. University of Michigan's Clark Library is a congressionally designated federal depository library. Librarians there can help you find documents and records created by the U.S. federal government. 
  • Clark Library is also an excellent place to get help finding state and local laws and legislation.
  • International government information can be found in United Nations documents which are available in print and online from the library since 1946.


  • Statistics reported by government or private sources can be useful when your dissertation relates to social issues. Sometimes, you need these statistics to illustrate the importance of your work.
  • Visit Finding Statistics Guide for sources and tips. 

Theses & Dissertations

  • Dissertations on similar topics to yours may contain information and technical details not published in other forms. You may also get inspired by how others approach similar topics during their graduate career.  
  • Search for theses and dissertations via ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (US, UK, Canada, Ireland etc. ) or WorldCat Dissertations and Theses (North America, Australia, and Western European countries) and other dissertation databases we subscribe. 
  • In recent years, many North American universities start to post dissertations in their institutional repository. For example, you may find recent Univ of Michigan dissertations in our institutional Repository- Deep Blue Dissertations and Theses. Sometimes, you may find access to them through a Google search. 

Conference proceedings 

  • For many fields, researchers present their most up-to-date research results at professional conferences. These results will later be published in conference proceedings, abstracts, or preprints. Sometimes, the conference proceedings can be full research articles as in many engineering and computer science areas. Conference Proceedings should often be consulted for latest development on your topic. 
  • Search for Conference proceedings via Web of Science, ProQuest Databases or Scopus by limiting the type of documents as Conference Proceedings etc. 

Grey literature

  • Grey literature is a blanket term for hard to find documents not formally published for public consumption (examples include technical reports, conference literature, white papers, memos and meeting minutes), not indexed in conventional indexing tools.
  • Grey literature can be invaluable for the research you are doing. 
  • Visit the Grey Literature Research Guide to see how you can use them in your research. 

Citation Analysis

Experts attempt to weigh the value of scholarly literature relative to other scholarly works. Some of this work is done through citation analysis, where formulas are designed to rank impact. The following guide has been created to explain current citation analysis practices.