What is the Structure of my Literature?

The structure of the literature is not the same in different subject arenas. The reason being that the information resources are different in specific subject areas, with some subjects having only very specific resources; for example cartography relies upon maps as a source. Additional because there are so many different subject areas, some information resources can be shared by several subject scenarios; for example ISI Web of Knowledge. How important these resources are dictated by the subject area in question.

An added feature to the structure of the literature is that it is not the same amongst subjects is the utilization of the most important and least important literature. These categories are utilised in different ways depending on the subject. In a few scientific areas, articles located in journals are more often viewed to as major sources of literature while books are seen as a least important source. Alternatively certain social sciences this priority works in the opposite direction, with books being treated as the most important form of literature source while articles obtained from journals take second place.

The term ‘Grey literature’ may come up from time to time and refers to written material that has not reached the formal publication stage. The referencing of this type of literature is often difficult to ascertain.

Resources of use for your Research

The best literature review includes referrals to subject matter from a wide spectrum of resources. This is of great importance even if the subject area is quite narrow.

There are a total of 15 known resource areas. You may find it of use to scan through the list and note down any resources that you may have overlooked. Suggestions are made on how to locate these resources.

Keeping up to date

An important component of the research process requires keeping on top of today’s progress in your topic area. A way to undertake this is to utilise an automated alerting service; for example ZETOC.


A great location to begin is ZETOC, the Electronic Table of Contents service provided by the British Library. ZETOC has access to in excess of 20,000 journals and 16,000 conference proceedings which are published every year. ZETOC is frequently updated and its records go as far back as 1993.

Journals and databases

Specific journals and databases often provide their own alerting services. It is worth checking out the journals that are relevant to your topic area.


When it comes to books, certain publishers, along with websites like Amazon, have on offer an email alerting services.

Newsgroups and mailing lists

An alternative avenue for keeping up to date on developments is to become a member of, or even initiate on your own, a newsgroup or mailing list. These have their use in reinforcing contacts within the broader research community and for putting your research in its rightful position. Most of the academic-related mailing lists in the UK are supported by JISCmail and for newsgroups, Google Groups.

Professional bodies

Joining a professional body relevant to your subject can be useful and it only requires the payment of a regular subscription. Professional bodies can be of particular use when it comes to news, obtaining of subject specific resources, access to subject specific libraries, personal contacts, speeches, education, conference bulletins and a regular in-house publication.