CMNS 253 (Distance Education): Research guide for a literature review (Assignment 3)

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 guide provides research strategies and sources to help you  with 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 (see the box at right for details).  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 make an appointment to consult in real time, by phone or in person.

NOTE:  The information in the grey boxes below is taken directly from the assignments.  The yellow boxes show examples.

Assignment requirements


1. Write a literature review, being sure to cite at least three academic sources. Use the sources suggested below to find these articles.

2. Write a short esssay based on your literature review.  Include an opening paragraph that explains the technologies you chose and your reasons for choosing them (presumably they are the ones from your second assignment). End with a concluding paragraph in which you speculate on what further research you could do on the topic and how you would do it. Your essay whould be 750 to 1,000 words in length, using APA citation style.
3. Submit both components to your tutor-marker for marking via the Assignments dropbox.

Why a literature review?


This assignment brings you another step closer to an actual research project. In this assignment we ask that you locate scholarly research related to the phenomenon and technologies you used in your second asssignment (e.g., texting while watching television). 
Your objective is to (1) write a short lliterature review summarizing what the research tells us is already known about the topic and (2) summarize your findings in a short essay.  See Perez-Latre's (2011) paper on social media for an example of a literature review.

A literature review helps you discover scholarly research 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 academic journal articles

Search one or more of the following indexes (also called databases) to identify suitable articles in a variety of academic journals. 

Each index contain records that describe articles in a range of journals, usually within a specific discipline such as Communication or Computing Science.  Some indexes also include conference proceedings, book reviews, newspapers, primary sources, etc.

The index records describe articles published in each issue of the journals covered.  The record includes the citation information that you need for your bibliography, such as the authors' names, article title, journal title, issue number and date, page numbers, as follows:

Communication and Mass media complete database record with citation information highlighted

Article index records also include descriptive information for the article (abstract, subject headings, author keywords).  You can use this information to find similar records in the database, expanding the pool of useful sources for your bibliography:

Subject terms and Abstract

Many indexes contain full text for articles, either in PDF or HTML format.  Full text for other articles can be found by following the Get@SFU link in the search results list  or in the full record. 

START by searching article indexes that focus on Communication literature:

Other disciplines also conduct research into the affects of media and publish articles about their results. The following indexes may also be useful for your literature review:

  • 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

NOTE: Computers are a literal technology.  Though you & I understand that "text messaging" and "text messages" are conceptually related, online search systems will find matches ONLY for the exact term that you use to search.

Use search terms that describe each of 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:

For example, search Communication & Mass Media Complete for "text messaging and teenagers".  When you view the records in your search results, you will see your search term bolded. 

The default order of the records in the results list is by relevance. You can change this to get the newest records first.  

Search terms

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

For example, search Communication & Mass Media Complete for

text messaging or text messages or texting 


teenagers or teens or adolescents

to find records that have any of the search terms in the first box, as well as one of the search terms in the second search box.

Searches in search boxes

In the left side-bar, you can see ways to focus your search.  The Subject: Thesaurus Term limiters let you choose from a list of official subject terminology that occur most frequently in your search results and assigned to all relevant records in the database.

The most relevant looking records in the above results contain the subject terms Text messages (Telephone systems) and Teenagers.  

To find all relevant records in the database, use these subject terms to search, including those with that phrase in the abstract or title, or in the subject terms, use this as a search term.

To tightly focus your search results, indicate that you want the database to search only in the subject term field for these subject terms, as in the example below. The subject term search finds all records in the database with a major focus on that topic.

Search using subject terms

When you find a relevant record in your results, scan it for leads that you can use to improve your search strategy.  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. 

As well as searching for articles by topic, you can use an author's name to find other research they have done. Often academic researchers work on related research questions over the course of their career.

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.

For example, technologies that share characteristics with texting include:
  • cell phones
  • mobile communication systems
  • wireless communication systems

You may find relevant records if you search for "students" as well as teenagers.

Identifying scholarly sources

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?

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.

Examples of peer-reviewed journals relevant to this course include:

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.

Find government information

As well as discussions of research undertaken by scholars, you can find a policy paper or research undertaken by government bodies, whether at the regional, national or international level.

Canadian government publications and related studies can be found by searching the following indexes:

You can also try searching the government web sites directly. For example, Canadian government bodies with interest in new media include:

Find factual information

Factual sources can include statistical reports, information published by industry or trade associations and news articles, as well as scholarly sources.

To find information about Canadian consumer trends, try:

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 using your technology OR how quickly the industry is growing, etc. Try these sources for statistical information:

Citing it right

Write a short essay based on your literature review....Your essay should be 750 to 1,000 words in length, using APA citation 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.