Literature Review Guidelines
TEAC 888 Fall 2008 Fowler/Smith/Pierce
For your literature review for your action research project, your references need to be research
articles (and possibly books). So, you will need to read them carefully to make sure that they are
research articles (that have methods sections) and not just descriptions of research or someone’s
idea of “a good idea.” However, non-research “how-to” articles can be a good source along your
path, in that they often contain references to research articles which you can then track down
(using ERIC, PsycINFO, JSTOR, & the library).
You are looking for others’ research that seems connected to what you want to study.
Sometimes the connections will be quite clear and you will be able to locate articles in
straightforward ways by typing in keywords that are clearly connected to your work. Other
times, you will need to be more creative when a search of what you believe to be obvious brings
up nothing or nothing that appears relevant. This is when you need to be creative, considering
alternative words to search by. A Thesaurus could be a tool here. Or it may be that you have to
see if similar questions have been studied in subjects other than mathematics, or at grade levels
other than middle level. If you find yourself running into dead ends, consider the tips that follow
and use Dr. Fowler, Ruth, Wendy, and Maria as resources. We have lots of experience doing
literature searches on all sorts of topics. Use us for ideas and use your discussion groups.
What kind of research should you look for? Ideally, you will find some research that has the
same overall problem statement that you do. Finding action research is a bonus, but you probably
won’t find lots of action research articles. You want to find research that has been done that is
similar to what you want to do. For instance, if you want to investigate journal writing in math
class, you may find some articles researching journal writing in science class. Don’t be surprised
if a majority of the research you find is with elementary school students. Both qualitative and
quantitative research articles are good to use in your lit review.
How many articles do you need to find? We’re not going to give you a specific number. How
many you need depends in part on which department you are getting your degree from. If you are
going through the math department (MAT), aim for at least five research articles, with at least
eight articles total. If you are going through the education college (MA), you should have at least
10-12 research articles, with at least 15 articles total. The articles you end up using in your paper
will not necessarily be the first articles you find. You need to look broadly, do some preliminary
collecting, and then figure out which of the ones you have found, connect in the most meaningful
ways to your project.
So, where can you start your lit review?
Either your school or your ESU should have a “professional library” which should have some
research journals. This is a good place to start—go see what they have. Also, talk to your ESU’s
Math consultant; they probably subscribe to some journals and might let you borrow articles. At
the least, they might be able to point you in the direction of good resources. You can also check
to see if your ESU owns a copy of NCTM’s A Research Companion to Principles and Standards
for School Mathematics. It is probably the case that only one or two chapters of the Research
Companion, in which case you may be able to get copies from Wendy.
Another starting place (or follow-up place) is to do an ERIC search. Recall that you can get to
ERIC through the Love Library site (you’ll have to enter your last name and NCard ID number
to log in from off-campus). You can try searching by putting in various keywords in different
combinations. Another good use for ERIC is to look up references you find from articles so that
you can read the abstracts before you try to get a copy & read them. Other good online
collections are JSTOR and PsycINFO. If you enter these through the Love Library home page
(E-Resources, Education), you can download all the articles for free.
Another resource is the collected references from your TEAC 800 final papers (Research Action
Plans). These are all research articles, and you may find some that relate to your topic. NOTE:
The articles in this list are NOT all in APA format, so do NOT use this list for APA reference.
Love library (and other university libraries) are good places to get copies of articles. They are
also an excellent place to go and find books. Frequently, the best books are on the shelf next to
the ones you go to find.
Other online resources:
**A word of warning about online resources:
The best research articles to cite are in published journals. So, in looking for research online,
focus on finding e-journals and other published articles. Documents that are just posted on
someone’s website may be interesting, but haven’t been subjected to the same rigorous review
that published articles have. While a few online sources are fine, you want the majority of
your sources to be from published sources. One example of an exception is that some authors,
like Deborah Ball, make the text of some of their published articles available on their websites.
In cases like this—when you are downloading a published article from the author’s website—
that’s the same as copying a published article from a journal at a library.
Huge Action Research site: http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~mryder/itc/act_res.html
This site includes both definitions of action research and links to other sites that have
action research articles. Under “Articles” you might want to read Prendergast’s action
research article, as well as the one by Riding, Fowell, and Levy.
Closer to the bottom is a link to the Journal of Educational Action Research; as you may
imagine, this is a good source of finding research articles. However, Love Library does
not subscribe to this journal. But, you can access the full text of any article older than 12
months. (http://www.triangle.co.uk/ear/ )
NCTM Research page: http://my.nctm.org/eresources/school_level.asp?lv=4
You can search NCTM publications (like ERIC but only NCTM published materials):
If you are a member of NCTM, you can then download the full text of most of the resources your
Try to find websites of educational researchers such as Deborah Ball, Jo Boaler, Edward Silver
(google should work).
This site has some example of math action research (not A+ examples of how to write up papers,
These sites are examples of things that are not necessarily research, but describe research and
point the way to locating action research:
This site is an example of how action research as a popular and accepted research technique is
just now emerging; this site does have one example of action research (not an A+ example), but
other parts of the site (including the literature resources) are under construction:
Further Action Research Publications:
http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/ari/ari-subs.html is the site where you can subscribe to
Action Research International, the online journal. This journal is an ideal place to publish your
results. The journal promotes itself as an online active action research community. You can view
past issues; these are better examples of how to write up action research, but not necessarily