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LING 452 Research Methods and Data Sources for Acquisition of Syntax

This is a companion guide to the Library research session for Dr. Martina Wiltschko’s LING 452 (Acquisition of Syntax) class, Winter Term 1, 2018.

What is a Literature Review

For your project, you are asked to provide a short review of the relevant literature. For the first 30 minutes of this workshop, we'll look at techniques for finding information sources for your literature review.

First, let's look at what a literature review is.

Getting an Overview of the Topic

Getting the Lay of the Land

Handbooks and Encyclopedias

Once you've identified your topic, use handbooks and encyclopedias to get overview entries on your specific topic. These entries will describe the key themes, readings, and authors. They should have short lists for further reading which can guide you to key or critical sources on a topic. This is especially helpful when a topic is new to you - it's easy to get overwhelmed by search results when you are new to a topic.

Some examples of online handbooks and encyclopedias relevant to this class:

Finding existing literature reviews on your topic

Some databases include "literature review" as one of the limit options you can set before doing your search. Setting these limits will mean that your search will retrieve only literature reviews.

In most databases, you will have to add a term for "literature review" to your search. You may also find results using these terms:

  • review article
  • systematic review
  • critical review
  • literature bibliography
  • meta-analysis


Digging Deep into the Literature

Finding Scholarly Articles

After you've taken a look at the background literature on your topic, move on to searching the relevant subject databases for scholarly articles on your topic. Look for subject terms and the key authors you've discovered. The relevant databases for language acquisition are:

Sample search in class using the LLBA database:(language acquisition) AND (nominal or pronoun or possessive) AND catalan


Citation Tracking

Citation tracking can be a powerful way to find research on your topic.Citation tracking is used to discover how many times a particular article has been cited by other authors. Some indexes such as Google Scholar will show you how many articles have cited an article. Clicking on the "Cited by" link will bring you to a list of those citations.

So for example if you have a key article that was written in 2003, you can look in the bibliography (aka reference list) for pre-2003 works that the scholar cited and used to develop their arguments. Citation tracking moves forward from that article (post-2003) - it will show you the articles that built on that work. As a general rule, high quality articles attract a greater number of citations.