Researching English Language

Reading around your topic and reviewing this literature

The sections in the book in this thread are:





Reading around your topic

The how and why of the literature review: joining a ‘community of practice’

The literature review

Reviewing previous English language literature for research



Organising and structuring a literature review

Emanuel Schegloff, Irene Koshik, Sally Jacoby, David Olsher.
Neal Norrick.
Ruqaiya Hasan.

Identifying what to read


Reading for different purposes

What are you reading for?


‘Reading critically’ revisited

Reading critically



Additional material on reading around your topic and reviewing this literature

2.1 Some students’ contributions

Various students have tried out the suggested activities.

2.1.1 This student was planning to research the language of leaflets produced within the criminal justice system aimed at young and adult offenders. Her search on CSA Linguistics and Language Behaviour Abstracts using the search term ‘leaflets for young people’ produced 70 articles, but none that were peer reviewed. The term ‘published material for offenders’ generated 434 articles, but she found that these were mostly in the domains of psychology and criminology, rather than language. ‘Government leaflets’ produced articles about policies, so she tried searches on ‘language and leaflets’ and ‘analysis and leaflets’, each of which identified 12 peer reviewed articles, which were useful for the project.


This student then switched to Linguistics Abstracts Online, trying out similar combinations of words and phrases. She tabulated the results like this:

search term

number of peer reviewed articles generated

leaflets AND linguistics


leaflets AND language


leaflets AND communication


youth offending




drugs leaflets


publications AND teenagers


publishing information

235, of which 4 involved (critical) discourse analysis

She reflects on the experience:

I learnt to widen my search – the topic that I specifically want to consider is clearly unique in some way. I found that what works for one search engine does not for another. Variations are crucial.
The process also extended my way of approaching the topic. Perhaps a questionnaire would be appropriate, asking people to judge the leaflets’ effectiveness and readability. The searches threw up articles which were both specific and encompassing, ranging from a study into the quantifiers used in leaflets to the comprehensibility of leaflets. Overall, the activity was vital to discovering where my research fits in, and I look forward to extending these searches.

2.2 Further resources relating to literature searches

There is a lot of guidance online about how to use resource databases, and much of this is frequently updated and expanded. In addition to the support you should be able to access from the institution where you are studying, the following links may be helpful:

Making use of JSTOR (described as ‘part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways’):
For a detailed article about Google Scholar, see Noruzi, A. (2005) Google Scholar : the new generation of citation indexes. You can also watch a video (already somewhat dated, but still useful as an introduction, if not very critical) at An article comparing various search engines is Liu, M. and Cabrera, P. (2008) The new generation of citation indexing in the age of digital libraries. Policy Futures in Education 6 (1), 77-86 (