COMM 390: Research Methods in Communication

Literature Reviews

Literature Reviews

COMM 390: Lit Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is not research, it is a review of the research that has been done on your topic.

A literature review is NOT just a summary, but a conceptually organized synthesis of the results of your search. It must

  • organize information and relate it to the thesis or research question you are developing
  • synthesize and critically analyze the results comparing and contrasting their findings
  • identify controversy and themes that appear in the literature

A literature review is a piece of discursive prose, not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. It's usually a bad sign to see every paragraph beginning with the name of a researcher. Instead, organize the literature review into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory. You are not trying to list all the material published, but to synthesize and evaluate it according to the guiding concept of your thesis or research question. (From Univ. of Toronto)

Check out these sites for more help understanding literature reviews

Tips on conducting research for a literature review

  • Use bibliographies and reference pages of articles to direct your research. You may start to see some trends with the people who are writing about your topic. Check the bibliography for more articles about your topic.
  • Use the authors who you have found to be writing on your topic as starting points. Look for additional articles, and rebuttals, retractions or responses to their research

Use this chart to track articles you read for your literature review:

Identifying Scholarly Articles

Identifying Scholarly Articles

what is a scholarly article (aec)

What is a scholarly article?

A scholarly article is how researchers (scholars) communicate the findings and analysis of their research. Scholarly articles:

  • Provide original research and analysis - these articles are based on studies or experiements, or analyze an artifact or event. Every scholarly article presents something new about the world we didn't know before.
  • Are written by scholars - scholars tend to hold PhDs, or other advanced degrees and are professors at universities.
  • Are published in peer-reviewed journals - you won't find these floating about on the internet, they have to be published in a journal. Most times you'll find them in the library databases.
  • Might be hard to read - they act as the primary conversation between scholars about a field of study. Since they are written by scholars, for scholars, they contain specialized language that might be hard for the lay person to understand.

Qualitative v. Quantitative Methods

Qualitative v. Quantitative Methods

qual quant

Researchers use different types of methodologies based on their research question, or area of study. How can you tell what kind of methodology they've chosen?

Qualitative Methods Quantitative Methods

Methods include focus groups, in-depth interviews, reviews of documents or literature themes, and observations

Surveys, controlled experiments,  and reviews of records or documents for numeric information
More subjective: describes a problem or condition from the point of view of those experiencing it More objective: provides observed effects (interpreted by researchers) of a program on a problem or condition 
Text-based  Number-based 
More in-depth information on a few cases  Less in-depth but more breadth of information across a large number of cases 
No (or few) statistical tests  Statistical tests are used for analysis
Less generalizable  More generalizable


Use this chart to help organize your work (used in K. Brown's Comm 390 course)


Additional resources:

Library Databases for Communication

Library Databases for Communication

COMM 390: Articles


Journal articles provide you with the latest research in your field. The research databases below will provide you with both scholarly and popular journal articles in communication.

Most Useful

Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly
Communication & Mass Media Complete
Provides abstracts and full text for more than 200 communication journals.
Partial Full-text + SFX 1950→current some
Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA)
Provides abstracts of articles from about 2,000 journals (published worldwide), coverage of recent books, book review citations and dissertation listings.
SFX 1973→current all
Academic Search Premier
Our most popular database. Covers a wide array of subjects with full text for nearly 1,850 scholarly journals, including more than 1,250 peer-reviewed titles.
Partial Full-text + SFX 1984→current most


Also Useful

Database Full Text Coverage Scholarly
A national database of education literature, including reports and journal articles.
SFX 1966→current some
Available via EbscoHost: A comprehensive international database of psychology, covering the academic, research, and practice literature in psychology from over 45 countries in more than 30 languages.
Partial Full-text + SFX 1887→current all
Sociological Abstracts
Provides access to the latest international findings in theoretical and applied sociology, social science, and political science.
SFX 1963→current all



COMM 200: Why Cite?

  • To give credit where credit is due;
  • So your reader (professor) can get the source that you mentioned in your assignment;
  • To add credibility to your research - shows you did the work;
  • Avoid plagiarism.

Learn more about writing citations and avoiding plagiarism by visiting these websites:

APA Style Guides


How to find an article's DOI (Digital Object Identifier

Spieldenner, Spring 2020

Spieldenner, Spring 2020

info eval comm 390

Evaluating Information

We evaluate information in three main areas:

  1. Visual: surface level
  2. Quality: just below the surface
  3. Ethos: deep dive

Whether you know it or not, you engage in these levels of information pretty frequently -- every time you meet a new person, read something on the internet, or any other time you encounter a piece of new information.

Let’s use the analogy of water sports to see how we can apply the Visual Quality Ethos method of information evaluation:

Visual: Surface-level

What do you see, at a glance?

  • Title - does it contain emotional cues?
  • Author or Sources (organization) - is a name or organization mentioned?Grammar/Spelling - are there any errors?
  • General topic
  • Date - when was it published, update times listed, date relevance?
  • URL - does the URL have any useful information?

Quality: Just below the surface

This level of evaluation is about determining credibility, basic purpose, content. This is the minimum level of evaluation for any source you want to use in college, whether it is for a class discussion, or for a more formal assignment.

  • Authority/Credentials - Do they have the “right to write” about the topic? Credentials could mean education or experience - give examples of both.
  • References Listed - Where is the author/org getting their information?
  • Verify information with another source?
    • Do a quick Google search. Can you find this information easily?

Ethos: Deep dive

Ethos in this case is referring to its “ethical appeal” -- what are they trying to convince you of, and why? When we try to evaluate the ethos of a source, we need to dig really deep and ask “big” questions.

  • What is the purpose?
  • Does it make you feel anything (note emotions while reading)?
  • Where does the funding come from?
  • Is there bias (one side favored over the other, especially in an unfair way)? Is only one side of the topic presented?

Data and Advocacy

Data and Advocacy

Evaluating Data

Consider the following when evaluating your data or statistics:


  • Who collected it? Was it an individual, organization or agency? 
    • The data source and the publication/website where it appears not always the same. For example, advocacy organizations often publish data that were produced by some other organization. When feasible, it is best to go to the original source (or at least know and evaluate the source).
    • If the data are repackaged, is there proper documentation to lead you to the primary source? Would it be useful to get more information from the primary source? Could there be anything missing from the secondary version?


  • How widely known or cited is the producer? Who else uses these data?
  • Is the measure or producer contested?
  • What are the credentials of the data producer?
    • If an individual, are they an expert on the subject? What organizations are they associated with? Could that association affect the work?

Objectivity & Purpose

  • What was the purpose of the collection/study?
    • Was it collected as part of the mission of an organization? Or for advocacy? Or for business purposes?
  • Who sponsored the production of these data?
  • Who was the intended audience for or users of the data?


  • When were the data collected? There is often a time lag between collection and reporting because of the time required to analyze the data.
  • Are these the newest figures? Sometimes the newest available figures are a few years old. That is okay, as long as you can verify that there isn't something newer.

Collection Methods & Completeness

  • How are the data collected? Count, measurement or estimation?
    • Even a reputable source and collection method can introduce bias. Crime data come from many sources, from victim reports to arrest records.
  • If it was a survey:
    • what was the total population -- how does that compare to the size of the population it is supposed to represent?
    • what methods used to select the population included, how was the total population sampled?
    • what was the response rate?
  • What populations included? Excluded?

Consistency / Verification

  • Do other sources provide similar numbers?
  • Can the numbers be verified?

** (Adapted from Gould Library, Carlton University)

Additional resources

Become Data Literate in 3 Simple Steps, Nicholas Kayser-Bril,

3 Ways to Spot a Bad Statistic, Mona Chalabi, TED Talks

Statistical literacy:Thinking critically about statistics, Of Significance: A Topical Journal of the Association of Public Data Users


Using Data for Advocacy

Data Advocacy: Visualizations for Promoting Change (Just Publics@365, CUNY)

Data Visualization and Infographics: Using Data to Tell Your Story (TechImpact/Idealware)



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