Literature Reviews for Public Affairs and Policy: Getting Started

Designed as a guide for students in the PAP PhD program.

Phrasing your Question

The most difficult part of a literature review is articulating your research question in a manner that is compatible with research databases. These databases frequently use controlled vocabulary or field-specific terminology that is unintuitive to researchers who are only just entering the scholarly discussion.   The first step is to articulate your research topic.

What is the impact of Social Media on public political participation in Canada?

Identify key terms, specifically nouns. In this case: Social Media ; Public Political Participation ; Canada.  Consider Synonyms.

Social Media             Public Political Participation  Canada
Social Networks   Political Participation you might narrow to a specific region or city
internet community Citizen Participation   
social websites Activism  

If you are having difficulty, log into PAIS Index or Public Affair Index and search your keyword. See what other subject terms they suggest. Example:


Using early results to find new keywords and subject terms

As you begin your searching, pay attention to search terms that are recommended by the databases, and well as terms used by authors. Give provides insight into the terminology used relating to your topic. Example: