The entire process of gathering the published information may be quite time consuming and may require multiple trips to the library and a lot of time reading, highlighting and making notes. During this process you should start thinking about your particular study. Make notes as to what previous researchers are recommending and start to organize the articles into categories. Create a category for rejected articles, those that do not relate to your topic, but don’t throw them away just yet. Make a category for meta-analysis or literature review articles to be used for summarizing and finding other research. And finally, make a category for articles that appear to relate to your topic. This last one can then be separated into different sections that will be helpful when writing the literature review of your report. For our study, such sections might include: biographical data on non-traditional students, differences in college grades, motivation for learning, or post-career education, to name only a few examples.
Through the process of reviewing these articles, it is likely that you will find new articles of interest and need to request copies of the full text. This second round can then be incorporated into both your notes and article organization and may, in turn, result in yet a third request for copies. As you can see, there is no clear way to get all the articles you need from a single library search or a single database. Multiple trips will almost always be warranted and you may spend weeks or even months completing the whole process.
During this time, however, you will gain a great deal of knowledge about your topic and will be able to fine-tune your theory in order to develop the hypothesis that you will eventually test. You may find that your original theory has been well tested so completing another study would not add additional information. However, you may also find, through your own deduction or through the researchers’ recommendations, a new path that is both needed and which interests you as a researcher.
Spend the time reviewing the literature wisely as doing so can prevent major headaches in the future. If you understand what pitfalls other researchers ran into you can avoid them before they interrupt your study. Also begin to look at feasibility during this process. If your idea is to place students in particular classes you will likely run into problems from both college administrators and potential subjects. If you need background information from subjects, make sure you will be able to gather it without jumping through too many hoops. In other words, do your best to fit the research needs to the practical limitations you will always be forced to deal with.