Apologies if this is old hat to some of you, but I think it will be helpful to set all these ideas out together, and you might even want to use them as a sort of checklist when doing the literature review for your dissertation. It's amazing how unsystematic many people - myself included (and even seasoned academics as well, I imagine) - can be about literature reviews. There's really no reason for this, and it would probably improve the state of scientific research in general if people could get more systematic about them. If there is enough demand, I may even do a one-hour class on "Doing a comprehensive literature review" at the start of the third term.
So, here are some ideas:
Believe it or not, academics do use Wikipedia! Of course, you should never cite it (except in very specialised circumstances, or perhaps to make a rhetorical point at the start of an article: the point is never to cite it as an authority) ... But if you do a Wikipedia search for some of the main terms and authors in each week's handout, the chances are you will find a helpful potted summary of a topic, and some good suggestions for further reading. (Do be aware of potential sources of bias, though, especially for contentious areas such as religion: if in doubt, check out the Talk page for each article.)
- Traditional encyclopedias, textbooks, and handbooks:
Of course, Wikipedia is just a bigger, more dynamic, and more open version of these. The same rule tends to apply: Don't cite an encyclopedia or textbook for information, but use them to get an initial orientation around a complex topic, along with suggestions for further reading. (An encyclopedia is also a good place to get a definition of a key technical term, which can be cited.) Handbooks (basically edited collections of academic review articles which give an overview of an entire discipline) tend to be much more detailed than textbooks, and hence are more useful at postgraduate level - but be aware that they may sometimes be too specialised to address the particular question that you are trying to answer. For example, when I looked at the section on Development in the Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, I realised that most of the articles were not really relevant to last week's question.
- Special issues of journals:
Sometimes, a journal will put out a special issue with half a dozen or so articles on some "hot topic" of the moment. These are great: you can use them to write virtually a whole section of a lit. review, because they will give you a sense of the entire spectrum of possible approaches to a particular research topic. They also often have a nice review article at the start of the issue. Finding special issues can be a bit random, though. Usually I have found them simply by following a citation to an article, and only then realising that it was part of a special issue, when I noticed the articles next to it! You could try typing "special issue" [topic name] into Google Scholar. (Obviously the topic name will have to be fairly specific, e.g. "cultural evolution" rather than simply "culture".) The only other way is to sift through the back issues of relevant journals - there is a list at the end of your course handbook, I think, and I will also try to specify a few in each week's handout - but that seems a bit tedious.
- Review articles:
These are academic articles which aim to give a summary (and often a reinterpretation) of existing research in a field, rather than describing or interpreting the results of the authors' own research. So they are brilliant places for finding references, but they do tend to be rather dense and can occasionally be overwhelming, if you are new to a topic. And they are even harder to find than special issues! Typing "review" [topic name] into Google Scholar rarely seems to work. The best way is probably to trawl back (or limit your search) through particular journals that are dedicated to providing review articles, e.g. Annual Review of Anthropology, Annual Review of Psychology, and Psychological Review. Discussion journals, which include peer commentary on a target article, also tend to be packed with references, and like special issues can help you get a sense of the range of opinions on a topic - but at the same time this range of opinions can be overwhelming! The most relevant discussion journals for this course are Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Psychological Bulletin, and Current Anthropology.
- Authors' homepages:
Do a Google search for all the authors mentioned in each week's handout, and check out their university/personal homepages. Many authors these days put up links to PDFs of their articles, or at least references to them which you can follow up. So you can use this to easily find more recent articles - even sometimes in-press articles - than the ones I have given you.
- Following up citations in an article you have read:
This is the method that I personally have used most often. I should probably have used it more sparingly, however. While it can obviously enable you to gather a lot of references very quickly, it has two major drawbacks:
a) All of the references will be older than the article where you have initially found them cited.
b) You can't read everything!
Hence, you should probably follow up references only if you have either seen them cited a lot by many different authors, or if the subject matter of the reference sounds really fascinating or is directly relevant to your research (particularly if the author used a similar methodology to the one you are thinking of using).
- Finding articles which cite an article on the reading list:
This is better because you will get more recent stuff. Google Scholar and most academic databases allow you to view lists of citing articles quite easily. If an article has been cited a lot, though, you will need some way of narrowing down to the most relevant results (see the strategies for Google Scholar below).
- Google Scholar and subject databases:
Obviously this is the biggie. I have left it till the end, though, because I don't recommend it as the first step in searching for references: it will lead to a very scattergun kind of approach. I use Google Advanced Scholar search a lot - http://scholar.google.co.uk/advanced_scholar_search?hl=en - or you could use an academic database, like PsycInfo or the Anthropological Index. There must be a way of accessing these through OLIS but I am not too familiar with the Oxford library system. In any case, whether using Google or another database, the problem is that if you just type a search term in, you will get too many hits. Here are some ways of narrowing down to the most relevant results:
a. Limit the search to "big name" authors (like the ones on the reading list; Google Scholar also automatically generates a list of the most important authors for any search term)
b. Limit the search to the most useful journals (see the course handbook)
c. Limit the search to articles published after 2005 (or some other recent year)
d. Combine search terms (e.g. "domain specific" with "cultural evolution")
e. When viewing the search results, focus on those that have been cited the most often. (Be aware though that the most recent articles may not have had time to be cited much, so take a look at them as well.)