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NYU Wagner

Resources for students in public service, nonprofit management, public policy, and urban planning.

Starting Your Literature Review

There are many preliminary questions you can ask youself and your team before you set out looking for sources.  This prework can help the process run more smoothly.

Research Question

  • What is it you want to know?
  • Where to look?
  • How to find what you are looking for? (Keywords)

 Scope of the Literature Review? It depends.

  • How many sources?
  • What types of sources?
  • Citation style?
  • Time period? Currency?
  • Scholarly vs. Popular Materials?

 Throw out a wide net

  • Keywords
  • Databases and Journals
  • Organizations
  • People
  • Read Read Read

Which Source Types are Best for Capstone Lit Reviews?

While the specific resource types can vary depending upon your particular area of focus and project mandate, most capstone projects rely on a number of different source types.

Books: Great for getting background information, understanding the main themes and sub-groups of study for a particular policy area as well as becoming acquainted with important researchers in the field and specialized nomenclature that will assist in your more refined search later. Find out more about searching for books in our guide to searching the NYU catalog.

Tip: Many of the more current books on policy and related social sciences are ebooks.  These offer excellent in-book search capabilities to quickly vet the resource for relevance, as well as allow you to pinpoint the chapters that are of use to you.

Articles: Academic articles tend to cover very specific topics.  Due to this focus, articles are a good second source type once you have gained some more general, background knowledge.  For Wagner capstone literature reviews, very often there are additional, non-academic articles that can contribute to an understanding of current policy issues and practices.  For this reason, the resources suggested on the Capstone page of this guide vary from large, multi-discipline databases with sources from academic journals as well as other periodicals, to very focused, policy databases that draw from think tanks, NGOs and government agencies.  

  • Large, multi-discipline, social science databases: 
    • ABI/INFORM features full-text journals, dissertations, working papers, key business, and economics periodicals. Researchers can locate country- and industry-focused reports, including and its international coverage.
    • Business Source Complete is a full text database of articles from popular, scholarly, and trade publications. Subjects covered include management, economics, finance, accounting, international business. 
  • Policy-focused databases:
    • Policy File offers access to U.S. foreign and domestic policy papers and gray literature, with abstracts and links to timely reports, papers, and documents from think tanks, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutes, advocacy groups, agencies, and other entities.
    • PAIS International contains journal articles, books, government documents, statistical directories, grey literature, research reports, conference reports, publications of international agencies for public affairs, public and social policies, and international relations.
    • Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO)  is a source for theory and research in international affairs. It includes scholarship, working papers from university research institutes, occasional papers series from NGOs, foundation-funded research projects, proceedings from conferences, books, journals, case studies for teaching, and policy briefs.