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Sustainable Agriculture

Resources and tips for your research in Sustainable Agriculture

Welcome to the course page for AGRI 4298, where you will find some help getting started with your literature review. Please feel free to suggest additional links or guides that you think might be helpful for your classmates, and I will add them below. 

Feel free to contact me (link below) for help with your searching, and your citations. Or, use the appointment scheduler located below my picture, on the Get Started page of this guide.

~ Celia Brinkerhoff

Getting started

Developing a research question that can be adequately addressed by your literature review will look a little like this diagramme.

Tools to help you with that initial exploration:

Literature reviews

As part of your work for AGRI 4298, you will be conducting a review of the literature on a particular topic. 

Generally, a lit review is more than a summary of research on a particular topic. Whether it is a standalone paper (usually called "A Review"), or done as part of a longer work, the literature review serves to synthesize and evaluate prior research in an area, as well as explore new avenues for study. 

As the author of a literature review, your job is to:

  • inform your readers of significant past research in your specialized topic,
  • highlight critical issues areas where research is lacking,
  • reflect on further implications 

Need some more tips? The following guides offere detailed descriptions of what a lit review should look like.

Searching the scholarly literature

Here are some of the library's key databases for your work in World Trends in Agriculture. 

The following tools will help you access the Open Access literature related to agriculture and food systems. 

Try Google Scholar for accessing peer-reviewed articles and publications on freely available sites and social media sites such as ResearchGate.

When searching from off-campus, go to  Settings > Library Links and add Kwantlen Polytechnic University Library to the search box. This will enable Google Scholar to add links to articles already in the Library's subscription.

See the screenshot below for details.

Once you have defined your research question and done a little searching, you will see that a kind of scholarly conversation is taking place amongst  researchers and writers within a particular field. You will want to take note of what these writers are saying, how they are building on one another's work, and where they agree or disagree. 

 Fortunately, most library databases, Summon, and Google Scholar have tools to help you locate related and citing articles.

Here are a few examples:

In the Summon search results for articles, look for "cited by" and "related articles". These will bring you a list of articles that cite this one, or are related to this one. The Altmetric circle can be an indication of an article's impact using a variety of measurements.


And here is a similar feature in Google Scholar. Click the screenshot below to see the articles that cite this one.




Searching the grey literature

Grey literature refers to that body of research produced by organizations outside of the commercial/academic publishing and distribution systems. This includes information from various sources such as: theses and dissertations, conference proceedings, and publications and reports from various levels of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Content may be free/open access or restricted to specific audiences. 

Depending on your research question or field of study, searching for grey literature may form an important part of your search. 

When searching for grey literature on the internet, take a few extra steps to assess the credibility of the site and organization responsible for the information, and watch for potential biases or omissions that their reports may contain. 

  • Open another tab and do an "about" search if the organization is not known to you
  • Likewise, search for information about the author
  • Use Wikipedia as a source of information about the organization, as well as any controversies about the topic

Your searching for grey literature will likely be outside of the library's collections, and a few tips from Advanced Google searching will be useful additions to your research strategy.

  • restricting your searches to specific sites or domains, ie.,
    • this will ensure that your results only come from the site or domain you specify. Expect to get far fewer but more relevant results
  • consider results coming in particular file formats ie., PDF
    • most formally published information exists in PDF format rather than HTML 

The following screenshot shows a search for migrant farm workers and climate, restricted to the BC governmen FAO site and published in PDF. You can set up you search using the Advanced Google search interface (linked above) until you are familiar with the shorthand commands. Click on the screenshot to see the actual 2,150 results, all reports published in PDF and housed on the FAO's site. Compare that with the over 3 million results from a general Google search for migrant farm workers climate fao.

Citation tracking

Once you have found an article that is related to your topic, it's time to start paying attention to the sources the author has used in their own research. 

Most of the library databases provide links to the cited articles on a reference list or bibliography. These links will either go directly to the article, link out to Google Scholar, or provide another means of accessing the article.

But what happens if you need to track a citation, and you don't have these links?

Click on the question marks in the sample reference list below to learn how to decipher references.

Managing your research

Before you start your research, put some thought into how you are going to collect all those resources, and what the easiest mechanism will be for recording your comments.

Keeping the metadata about the resource (author, title, URL, etc) together with search terms and tools you used, as well as the notes you might want to make for each, will save you lots of time later.

You may have developed your own system that works for you, but below are two suggestions for tools to help you organize your results. The ultimate goal of your assignment is to contribute to a list of resources that will be shared, so having correct publication information will be critical for others to locate your suggestions.

Zotero is a free browser tool that keeps track of your articles and webpages, and creates citations in several formats. Sign up for a free account, and your personal library will be accessible from any computer with an internet connection.

Use Google Sheets to collect publication details, including the URL, of each item you find useful. Use a column to add your notes with your ideas about why you are selecting the item. It will be easily available to you anywhere you have access to Google Drive, and easily shareable with others.

Here's an example of what that might look like. Feel free to copy and use this one:


Here is an example of how one researcher uses Excel to organize their research, including columns for entering conceptual ideas, cross references, conclusions, and so on. (Thanks to the University of the Fraser Valley Library for highlighting this blog post and useful technique, on their Writing a Literature Review Libguide.)

Synthesizing  different bodies of work in your literature review: the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump technique, from Raul Pacheco-Vego. 

Other tools to be aware of: