Collection Spotlight: Supercharging Scholarly Literature Reviews with Oxford Handbooks Online and Annual Reviews

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Nov. 27, 2023, 5 p.m.
Learn about benefits of two of the most powerful sources for in-depth scholarly literature review essays.
row of encyclopedias

by Michael Pasqualoni, Librarian for the Newhouse School of Public Communications

Why consider tertiary sources like handbooks and annual reviews? Debates over the emerging roles of generative artificial intelligence can lead to reassessments of how scholars engage with text and images composed in educational and research environments. Newer technologies arrive upon the heels of decades of Google-like discovery tools which offer strengths and weaknesses in transforming centuries of scholarly, professional and popular source material into what appears to be endless lists of variously ranked and sorted references. For example, inventories of bibliographic source citations or other metadata, scrolling sets of database search query results, etc. Both amazing and frustrating, these listings can separate narratives from original contexts. The search tools smash together published discourse from every imaginable genre and discipline in ways that can be energizing and cross-fertile at best, or at worst a perplexing mix of what seems like a vintage public telephone directory and virtual edition of a one room schoolhouse. General search engines can be powerful, but they tend to create an overwhelming resource discovery experience akin to pulling every published artifact from a university’s library and presenting that back as alphabetical lists of titles, words, and phrases. Scrolling lists of images and audiovisual content are common. Relevance or even chronological order when parsed offers complications alongside opportunities.

Whether a Syracuse University undergraduate or a senior faculty member, don’t assume that your major research question was never previously inquired. And do not be a prisoner of the single query search window so commonly found at main search engines at a library’s website or other site searches.

If your primary objective is conducting an original literature review or a more extensive systematic or scoping review of prior literature, Google-like search queries are often one element. But the framing for approaching those extensive explorations of previously published literature can be improved. Supercharge the process by making use of tertiary academic source material. Encyclopedias, handbooks, annual reviews and even Wikipedia can perform these functions. In a Libraries search, these are the kinds of synthesizing, summary style results viewable when clicking on the “content type” search results filter labeled “reference” located at the left margin of those results.

Employing tertiary level reference sources builds the capacity for identifying central persons, organizations, theories, time periods and other developments within the realm of wider research inquiry. These types of in-depth literature review essays offer highly readable and often well-organized narratives that synthesize and encapsulate previous work. Their appended and sometimes lengthy lists of source citations may include citations to books or other primary sources that lack any form of online digital presence beyond brief referencing. A weakness over systems like ChatGPT is the oceans of historical and some recent texts, as well as audiovisual source material, which does not live in full form online. Researching one’s family history predating the mid-20th century often reveals that challenge. So does probing published sources originating in highly local or less wealthy geographies. Research encyclopedias and other literature review essays incorporate references of this type.

Two of the strongest of such resources available at Syracuse University are the Oxford Handbooks Online and Annual Reviews. Students and faculty in all disciplines will find at least one or both encyclopedia style compilation to be of tremendous value. Both enhance the efficiency of pulling together literature on any subject. Both enhance the grounding about a subject that involves extensive original searches for previously published academic literature. Many researchers also find certain subtopics covered which are not the heart of one’s inquiry but important indirectly. You may not engage in doctoral level literature reviews for subtopics, but you may wish to feel comfortable knowing more. And sources of literature review essays like Oxford Handbooks Online and Annual Reviews can be helpful for synthesizing.

Oxford Handbooks Online (OHO) is part of a larger suite of various sources, such as Oxford University Press eBook titles and journals from Oxford University Press, aggregated into the database package called Oxford Academic. If you are beginning at that larger Oxford Academic database, click on the link to “books” to see Oxford Handbooks Online (OHO). OHO offers numerous surveys of current thinking and recent and more deeply historical research on a wide range of subject matter. It provides sets of extensive literature review essays covering multiple topics within:

To learn more about OHO, view this four minute YouTube video overview of Oxford Handbooks Online from the publisher or this one-minute YouTube video introduction to Oxford Academic, the wider platform containing Oxford Handbooks Online (OHO) and more.

Annual Reviews was created in 1932 by Stanford University Professor of Chemistry, J. Murray Luck, with the launch of the Annual Review of Biochemistry. Compared to OHO, Annual Reviews has a stronger focus on STEM disciplines with over 45 scientific and social science disciplines. It is an excellent resource that synthesizes primary research literature and presents principal scholarly contributions in a field, uses editorial committees of distinguished scholars to select topics for review, and has in-depth literature review articles written by recognized experts.

Visit the Publications A-Z List for Annual Reviews to see the full view of the many disciplines that are covered. A few examples include:

The citation lists at the end of each annual review addressing a specific topic also offer flexible links to other forms of follow-up research, including embedded “SULinks” which help researchers determine if the cited sources are available in SU Libraries’ various collections (i.e., links through to full text sources on those lists, as contained within other Syracuse University databases or online journals, or sometimes availability in eBook collections when the Annual Reviews citation is to a full book title). Similar links for each cited article or book often offers the ability to click into the Google Scholar reference to that item or link to citations to articles within the large multidisciplinary citation tracking database, Web of Science.

To learn more about Annual Reviews visit the Vimeo video from the publisher providing a one minute overview of Annual Reviews as a service to researcher communities. To provide feedback or suggest a title to add to the collection, please complete the Resource Feedback Form.

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