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Research Process

These pages offer an introduction to the research process at a very general level.

Exhausting the Literature

The most important indicator that you have discovered all of the available literature on your topic is that you keep seeing the same articles and books over and over again, even when changing your search terms and techniques. When the research has been exhausted, you will be familiar with all the key researchers/theorists, seminal studies, and recent developments in the field. There will be no more new content to discover.

It should also be noted that for doctoral students, your Dissertation Chair must be satisfied that you have comprehensively addressed the theories/concepts underlying the question you are asking, as well as the methods.

Before concluding that you have exhausted the research, it is important to ensure that you have done everything possible to comprehensively research your topic. The Steps to Take box below discusses important steps to take before you can stop researching and begin synthesizing your information.

Steps to Take

The first step to exhausting the literature on your research topic is making sure you are using all of the library search techniques demonstrated in the Searching 101 and Searching 102 workshops. The workshop recordings are available directly below or on the Library Workshop Videos page.

You can read more about database search techniques demonstrated in Searching 101 in the Preparing to Search section of this guide.

You can read more about the techniques for finding similar research demonstrated in Searching 102 in the Finding Similar Resources section of this guide.

After conducting a search for your research topic in NavigatorSearch, you may use the Extend Your Search buttons on the right-hand side of the results screen. These buttons allow you to search for your terms within other library databases, as well as within Google Scholar.

The Library suggests clicking the Google Scholar button to locate additional scholarly articles related to your topic.


Screenshot of the Extend Your Search buttons on NavigatorSearch results screen.

It is important to look at the subject terms and/or author-supplied keywords associated with the articles that you have already found. This can help lead you to articles that you did not locate during your previous searches.

After conducting a NavigatorSearch, select an article of interest to you. Click on the article's title to get to the Detailed Record screen as shown below. Here you may click on the subject terms and author-supplied keywords in order to execute a new search on that topic. Note that some subject terms have an asterisk before the word, or use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters. This does not affect your searches, and is not something you need to remember.

After clicking on a subject term or keyword, your search results may be broad. You can continue refining your search by adding additional search terms or by applying limiters. If you want to find only scholarly/peer-reviewed journals, you will need to click that check box on the left-hand side of the screen.


Detailed record screen showing subjects and keywords in NavigatorSearch.

Setting up database alerts is a great way to find articles related to those which you have already found and ensure that you have located the most up-to-date resources on your topic.

Depending on the database's service, an alert can provide the table of contents to new issues of journals or a list of new articles based on search terms. Some databases even offer citation alerts, to inform you when a particular article has been cited. When you set up a search alert, the database automatically runs your search and sends you any search results added since the last time the search was run. You can set searches to run once a day, once a week, or less often.

The Database Alerts & RSS Feeds Guide provides detailed instructions on setting up alerts in Library databases and online. The example below shows how to set up alerts using the NavigatorSearch.

Screenshot showing the Email Alert feature in the NavigatorSearch

Another resourceful method for uncovering additional research on your topic is to look at the citing articles, or the articles which cited your original article. This can be an effective method particularly when you are looking for the latest research on your topic. You will be moving forward in time given that the citing articles are building off of the research established in your original article.

Google Scholar is perhaps the best resource for discovering citing articles. However, a number of Library databases will also include hyperlinks to Citing Articles. For details, see our Citing Articles guide.


Google Scholar screenshot showing the citing articles.


Similar to looking at the citing articles, looking at the related articles for those you have already found is an excellent way to uncover additional research on your topic. Note, however, that related articles may be older than your current articles.

Again, Google Scholar is a great starting point for looking at related articles. Results are ranked by relevancy which means that the most similar articles should appear at the top of your list of results. Additionally, several Library databases provide links to similar, related, or recommended articles. For details, see the Related Results guide.

Screenshot showing the related articles feature in Google Scholar.

If you have relied only on the Library's NavigatorSearch for your research, it may be time to search individual subject-specific library databases available from the A-Z Databases list. Searching individual databases for your research topic can potentially reveal articles that you did not see in your NavigatorSearch results.

A-Z Databases is a list of all the Library's subscription databases. Use the "All Subjects" drop-down menu to limit your database selection to just those related to your broad discipline. The yellow "Best Bets" box at the top of the screen is a great starting point. You can also contact the Library for suggestions on which databases might be best for you.

Screenshot of the A-Z Databases page with the subject Education selected.

Web of Knowledge is a great research tool for discovering more articles on your research topic, including seminal and high-impact articles. You may use the Web of Knowledge database to do in-depth analysis of citing articles for articles you have already found. This is a step beyond looking at the citing articles in Google Scholar since Web of Knowledge allows you to view another level of citing articles, as well as analyze results by category, author, research area, and more.

Once you have located an article of interest, first click on the number of citing articles from the results screen. Next, click on Analyze Results or Create Citation Report to use these advanced features.

For additional instruction, see the Web of Knowledge Guide. There is also a monthly workshop called Am I Done? A Deep Dive into Finding More Research with Web of Knowledge. See the Library Events Calendar for upcoming offerings.

Screenshot showing the citing articles in Web of Knowledge

Screenshot showng the Analyze Results and Citation Report features in Web of Knowledge

SAGE Navigator provides an extensive overview of nearly 300 social science topics (including business, education, and psychology), as well as key readings in that area. You may check SAGE Navigator to see if your broad research topic is represented in the database.

Once you have selected a Major Work of interest from the search results screen, click on the Key Readings tab to view a list of between 60-120 recommended readings from the key literature, including journal articles, book chapters and more. These sources have been hand-selected by experts in their field, saving you valuable time in identifying seminal research. Note that you need to scroll down below the chronology chart to view the key readings.

Screenshot of key readings tab for a resource in SAGE Navigator.

Also on the Key Readings tab, the Chronology Chart plots research by year and could potentially reveal trends in research that you have not yet discovered. Each dot on the chronology represents one seminal work, which you may hover over for more details. Look at the groups of colored dots to identify patterns in the research.

Screenshot of the chronology feature in SAGE Navigator.

For additional instruction on SAGE Navigator, see the Finding Seminal Works guide.

It is important to make sure that you are not limiting your searches to full-text articles only. Academic databases make available hundreds of thousands of citations so scholars are knowledgeable about the breadth of research that has been published. In other words, you want to be able to find out that a particular book or article on your topic exists, even if the Library doesn't provide immediate full-text access.

Utilizing the free Interlibrary Loan service is a great way to expand your research by quickly obtaining full-text resources that are not available through the NU Library. See the Interlibrary Loan Guide for instructions on creating an account and placing requests.

Have you thoroughly examined the timeline of scholarly conversation surrounding your research topic? Are there earlier resources that establish foundations or theories? Are there more recent resources that build on previous works or present emerging ideas? Examining the overall timeline is a great way to ensure you have exhausted the literature.

Dimensions is a database that offers the most comprehensive collection of  linked data in a single platform; from grants, publications, datasets and clinical trials to patents and policy documents.

Use the search box at the top of the screen to enter your topic keywords. From the search results screen, see the Overview section on the right-hand column to view a timeline of research publications. Use the publication year limiter on the left-hand side of the screen to limit your results to a research year with a high number of publications.

Screenshot of the website with the Overview chronology section highlighted.

The Web of Knowledge and SAGE Navigator databases also provide chronology tools that help visualize research over time. For additional information, see the tabs within this box.

If you are uncertain if there is more content to be discovered on your research topic, you may want to seek assistance from the Library team. Live help is available by phone, chat, text, and email during our posted business hours. Contact information is provided on the Library's home page.

Additionally, the Library offers live and recorded Research Consultations. Research Consultations are live, one-on-one sessions that provide in-depth, high-level, and customized research assistance with a reference librarian. Recorded Video Research Consultations are customized 30-minute sessions recorded by a librarian and emailed to you within 3 business days (Monday - Friday).

To schedule a research consultation, please visit the Library's Research Consultation Guide. Follow the blue navigation tabs on the left to select from the live or recorded sessions. When filling out the scheduling form, please be as thorough as possible to allow the librarian to fully prepare for your session. Failure to provide detailed information on your research topic may result in rescheduling or canceling your appointment.

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