CMNS 253 : Research guide for a literature review

Contact info

If you need help, please contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication & Contemporary Arts at 778.782.3681 or or Ask a librarian.

The following information is intended to help you get started with research for your CMNS 253 literature review assignment.

If you do not find what you need, please Ask a Librarian or contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication.  My work week is split between SFU Vancouver and SFU Burnaby so the best way to reach me is by email.  If necessary, we can set up a time to consult by phone or in person. See the box at right for my contact details.

Assignment requirements

(Excerpted from the assignment)

In this assignment we ask that you locate scholarly research related to a new media phenomenon or technology and address it by writing an academic essay in the form of a literature review....

To do so, please consider the following steps:

1. identify a particular topic of interest (i.e., a new media phenomenon or technology);

2. find 3 peer-reviewed academic publications focused on this topic + 2 non-academic sources;

3. bring them together in conversation in order to formulate further research questions OR critical concerns pertinent to your interests and experience with new media articulated along with or in contrast to other scholars’ work (i.e. in a form of a productive disagreement with a particular scholar OR found on the intersection of several works)

Why a literature review?

A literature review helps you identify scholarly research landscape that pertains to your topic.  Conducting a review or survey of previously published research on your topic will provide you with information as to what research has been done, types of questions asked, methodologies used, subjects studied, findings, theoretical approaches, etc.

This is useful both as a way to gain background information about your own and related topics, and to identify gaps in the research that lead you to good research questions for additional studies.

Additional sources for understanding literature reviews:

Finding a known article

How would you find an article from a bibliography or reference list?  For example:

Malikhao, P., & Servaes, J. (2011, May). The media use of American youngsters in the age of narcissism: Surviving in a 24/7 media shock and awe – distracted by everything. Telematics & Informatics. pp. 66-76. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2010.09.005.

You can search for books or articles using the catalogue search box on the Library homepage.  Enter the title enclosed in quotation marks to find exact matches.  Results will include any sources that include that phrase, including the article and any books or articles that cite that article.

If you need to focus your search to find the correct source,  try using the limiters in the left sidebar to limit by year of publication or source

Finding academic journal articles

Use an article index to search by topic and get results in a variety of different academic journals. 

Start with these journal indexes that focus on Communication literature:

Other disciplines also conduct research into the affects of media:

  • Sociological Abstracts
    Strong scholarly content describing research that investigates the role of new media in society and on social groups
  • Web of Science
    Multi-disciplinary index, good for identifying a wide range of approaches to media research
  • Covers a range of journals on applied science and technology topics such as engineering, computer science, robotics, etc. May cover technical aspects (i.e. how things work) but can be useful to identify trends in the use of technology

Search strategies

Search using terms that describe the major concepts involved in your research.

Connect different search terms with AND to find results that have both terms in the same record, for example:

"instant messaging" AND teenagers

If you do not get adequate results, try using synonyms or related concepts as additional search terms, using OR between related search terms.

"instant messaging" OR IM OR texting


teenagers OR adolescents OR teens

When you find a relevant record in your results, scan it for leads that you can use to improve your search strategy, such as search terms you haven't used or expert authors.

For example, if you search for the terms used as subject headings, you will identify all records in that database that focus on that specific topic.  Computers are a literal technology.  Though you & I understand that "text messaging" and "text messages" are conceptually related, digital search systems will search only for the term you enter.

Library databases often gather records on a topic under a specific subject term that describes the topic. 

Searching Communication and Mass Media Complete for "text messaging" finds 500+ records which include that phrase anywhere in the record, e.g. in the title, subject, abstract. 

When I review these results, I see that relevant records include the subject term "text messages (phone systems)". 

A keyword search  for "text messages" results in 600+ records

Searching for "text messages" as a subject finds 500+ records, all of which have a focus on that topic

A more specific subject search for "Text messaging & driving" gives a set of 3 records 

If you don't find anything on your specific new medium (because it's too new or because no one has done the research), consider research about media that shares characteristics with your focus.  Scan the subject headings suggested for your resulting records, often linked from a sidebar.

cell phones

mobile communication systems

wireless communication systems

You can also use the author's name to search for other research they have done. Often academic researchers work on related research questions over the course of their career.

Identifying academic sources

You can determine whether a journal is an academic journal by checking whether or not the journal is peer-reviewed.   A journal will often disclose whether it is a peer-reviewed journal on its "About" page.   If you use an online journal repository or database, such as the ones provided by the SFU library, you can check whether a journal is peer-reviewed by finding summary information about the journal.

When you use books or journal articles published by an academic or scholarly publisher, you can feel confident that the quality of the research and its presentation have been assured. This is not always true of sources that do not undergo a peer review or scholarly editorial process, such as web pages or popular magazines or newspapers.

To ensure you are using credible, high quality resources, you need to evaluate the content of the information and credentials of the author. 

Scholarly or academic journal articles share the following characteristics:

  • The author's academic affiliation (university or research institution) will be listed, usually directly under their name or in a note at the bottom of the first page or end of the article. This demonstrates their credentials or expertise as a scholar
  • The article will cite sources consulted as part of the research. You will find in-text references and a bibliography or reference list included with the article. This enables the reader to position this specific research in what's known about this topic.
  • The language of the article will be scholarly, will identify the research methodologies or methodological frameworks employed.

For detailed information on how to recognize an academic journal article, see the Library guide What is a Scholarly Journal?

Examples of scholarly journals include:

Selected open-access peer-reviewed (academic) journals, from your assignment:

Not sure if a journal is peer-reviewed?

Use Ulrich's Periodicals Directory / Search for the journal title and look for the referee's jersey icon (see screen shot below).

"Refereed" is another way of saying that a journal is peer-reviewed, that is, reviewed by experts in the discipline, to assure the articles are of a high standard and contribute significantly to scholarship in that field.

Ulrich's periodicals directory screenshot of search results for New Media and society

Finding information in non-academic sources

Useful perspectives on new media can be found in sources such as statistical reports, information published by industry or trade associations and news articles, as well as scholarly sources.

To find credible, non-academic information try:

  • CBCA Complete Canadian publications, both scholarly and popular
  • Canadian Newsstream Canada's major daily and weekly newspapers
  • Academic Search Premier primarily American publications, both scholarly & popular content
  • Business Source Complete primarily American publications, providing industry and consumer information in scholarly publications and trade journals
  • GMID  market reports, statistics, demographic and consumer data on every country for a range of products/services

If you're trying to find out the impact of your technology on society, you might want to find statistics about the demographic characteristics of consumers or citizens using your technology, how quickly the industry is growing, etc. The following "official" agencies offer statistical information on the use of new media and the internet:

There are a variety of think tanks and other research organizations that examine the impact of new media on society, such as:

When you find information on a web site, use the "About" link to discover who maintains the site, whether they have the qualifications to post credible data, whether they have financial or political interests that may bias how the information is presented, etc.

Citing it right

 ALL sources you use must be properly cited and formatted using APA 6th style

The SFU Library guide to citing APA style provides information and examples of how to cite your sources in APA style.

If you have questions about how to cite your sources properly, please Ask a Librarian.