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Researching for your literature review: 2. The Literature

Finding the Literature

The word literature (in 'literature review') broadly refers to the scholarly or scientific writing on a topic.

Common sources of written works include:

  •     peer-reviewed journal articles
  •     books and book chapters
  •     conference papers and government reports 
  •     theses / dissertations

A good quality literature review involves searching a number of databases individually.


The Library databases are an excellent resource for finding peer-reviewed journal articles (and also book chapters and conference papers).

Databases may be multidisciplinary or discipline-specific. The best way to find the relevant databases for your review is to consult a list of databases such as the ones found in:

Books are often useful for background information when learning about a topic. They may be general, such as textbooks, or specialised.

Finding books

A good way to find books is to use an online catalogue such as the Monash University Library Search catalogue.




  • More recent editions may include information not found in previous editions
  • Authors may discuss different aspects of a topic or present the information in different ways - reading widely can help understanding
  • Once you have a basic understanding of the topic, searching for journal articles may help you to learn more and access the most current information.

For further sources of books try your subject-based library guide or the e-books Library Guide.

What is grey literature?

Grey literature is information which has been published informally or non-commercially or remains unpublished.

It can include a range of material, such as government or technical reports, discussion papers, statistics, conference
proceedings and policy documents. The quality of grey literature can vary greatly as it doesn't necessarily go through the traditional editorial process.

More detail can be found in the following: UniSA Grey Literature guide, the PHCRIS Grey Literature page and the HLWiki page on grey literature.

Selected sources of grey literature

Key ways of finding grey literature include using search engines, databases, government or organisation websites and grey literature directories. For example:

See the Government publications library guide for information on locating federal and state government publications for Australia and selected other countries.

Statistical data can be found in the following selected sources:

Additional statistics are available from many government websites. Try limiting by domain and using the keyword Statistics.

For a list of databases that include statistics see:

The Monash University Library Theses library guide provides resources and guidelines for locating and accessing theses produced by Monash University as well as other universities in Australia and internationally.

Theses at Monash

Theses available in the library can be found using the Search catalogue

These include

  • Monash doctoral, masters and a small number of honours theses 
  • Other Australian and Overseas theses that have been purchased for the collection

Formats include print (not available for loan), microfiche and online (some may have access restrictions).

See the Theses library guide for more information on finding theses.

Australian Theses

Trove includes doctoral, masters and some honours theses from all Australian and New Zealand universities, as well as theses awarded elsewhere but held by Australian institutions.


  • Type in the title, author surname and/or keywords. Then on the results page refine your search to 'thesis'.
  • Alternatively, use the Advanced search and include "thesis" as a keyword or limit your result to format = thesis.

For more information see the Trove website

International Theses

There are a number of thesis databases and repositories. 

A popular source is:

For more sources of international theses see the Theses library guide  

Conference papers are typically published in conference proceedings (the collection of papers presented at a conference), and may be found in book format, on an organisation or Society's website, as a journal, or as a special issue of another journal.

In some disciplinary areas (such as computer science), conference papers may be a particularly well regarded as a form of scholarly communication; the conferences are highly selective, the papers are generally peer reviewed, and papers are published in proceedings affiliated with high-quality publishing houses.  

A citation for a conference paper may look something like the following two examples:

Jarrett, K., Kavukcuoglu, K., & Lecun, Y. (2009, September). What is the best multi-stage architecture for object recognition? In 2009 IEEE 12th International Conference on Computer Vision (pp. 2146-2153). IEEE.

Sato, G. Y., Barthes, J. P., & Chen, K. J. (2008, August). Following the evolution of distributed Communities of Practice. In Cognitive Informatics, 2008. ICCI 2008. 7th IEEE International Conference on (pp. 267-276). IEEE.

Some indexes of conference papers are listed below:


  • The year of publication may be different to the year the conference was held. If applying a date limit to your search, try a range of years.
  • Try searching for the conference title rather than the title or author of the paper. The entire conference proceedings may be cited under a special title. You can also try searching for the conference location or sponsoring organisation.
  • For further sources of conference papers, check the databases listed in your relevant subject-based library guide.

Honours students and postgraduates may request conference papers through Document Delivery. However, conference paper requests may take longer than traditional article requests as they can be difficult to locate; they may have been only supplied to attendees or not formally published. Sometimes only the abstract is available.

The library has a large collection of Australian and overseas newspapers, both current and historical. 

To search the full text of newspapers in electronic format use a database such as
 Newsbank newspapers : Australia and the world.

See the Newspapers library guide for comprehensive information on newspaper sources available via Monash University library and open source databases, as well as searching tips, online videos and more.

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Make sure you find the best resources for your literature review

For the best, most relevant resources for your own literature review, look for your subject area in our list of Library Guides.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary sources of information

Sources of information may be categorised as primary, secondary or tertiary depending on their relationship to the events they describe.

The characteristics of primary, secondary and tertiary sources will differ between different academic disciplines, notably between the sciences and the humanities.

Primary sources are original materials or content from the time period involved, or original research reported for the first time by those who directly participated in, observed or conducted the research.

Sources will be designated as primary sources due to their content regardless of whether they are published or are available in their original format.

Secondary sources describe, interpret, review or comment on events or evidence after the fact. This may be information reported in the primary literature, or in other secondary sources.   

Some secondary sources may also be considered tertiary sources depending on the context.

Tertiary sources present a condensed version of materials compiled from primary and secondary sources.

They can be a good place to look up facts or get an easy-to-read overview of a subject, and include guidebooks and encyclopedias.

Peer review

Not sure if your journal article is peer reviewed? View this interactive tutorial:


Primary sources in JSTOR Scholarly archive

An archive of important scholarly journal literature, built by over 1,700 worldwide participants including major Australian universities. Coverage includes the arts, sciences, business, ecology and botany, language and literature, and music, extending from 17th century in some cases.

Examples of Primary, Secondary & Tertiary sources by subject areas

Click table to enlarge: