Assignments‎ > ‎

Individual Literature Survey

You should prepare a survey of the literature most relevant as background for your project. You may want to choose complementary topics with other team members in your group. 

Due Dates

  • Due 9/19 (start of class): Literature Search
  • Post a finished literature review in the class dropbox by 10PM Sunday, Sep 29. Optionally post powerpoint slides that outline your review. 
  • Be prepared to present in class on 10/1 for 15 minutes. We’ll spend class time going over and critiquing the literature reviews. 
  • Prepare revisions and upload them into the class dropbox by 10pm Sunday, Oct 6.
  • Be prepared to present in class on 10/8 for 15 minutes. 

Literature Search

To lay the groundwork for doing a literature survey (the first major assignment of the class), please do the following before class:
  • Organize: Decide if you are going to keep track of references in citeulike (supports group work), in Papers (best for individual work), as index cards, or in some other fashion. Your reference stack will be due along with your writeup (see below). Get set up NOW so you can add references and summaries as you read, along the lines recommended in Turabian. 
  • Enter the following article (to be provided after voting on projects) into Google Scholar: [TBD]
    • Click on “cited by #” to see articles that have cited the article you searched for. This is a "forward citation search". Then look at the actual article, and the titles of the things it cites.  This is a "backward citation search." Then click on “related articles” to see citations that Google Scholar considers to be related. All together these should generate a list of possibly 100s of additional references. Save the list of articles (not the actual text of them, just the references to them) all into a single file and bring a printout to class.
  • Enter "annual review of " and the term you think is most relevant to the general area of the article used above
    • Find and download a review (survey) article on the topic and look it over. This should give you a list of possibly 100s of references in the general area of interest. Bring a printout to class. 
Come to class prepared to discuss the pros and cons of a review article versus a forward and backward citation search.  Think about whether these two approaches have been helpful and efficient in starting to identify the most important articles to consider including in your literature review for this project. Obviously, you don’t have time explore all the possibilities in depth. You might decide to concentrate on the leading researchers in the field, or  the most recent articles, or  the most closely related to the article you started with, or the exact topic of your research.. Abstracts and article summaries can provide quick overviews. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of citations, so be sure to supplement this kind of citation trawling with other methods such as word-of-mouth and references within the most recent and relevant article you can find.

Note: Google Scholar is one of several free indexes into scholarly articles. It Indexes scholarly articles (including some book chapters and other formats) that can also be used for citation searching. Also, click on "cite" to see a (possibly innacurate) formatted citation that you can cut and paste into a literature review. If Google Scholar points you at a piece of work that is not free, you can often get access to it through the CMU libraries using one of several methods. A more accurate, highly indexed tool is Web of Science, but that is limited to journal articles. Google  never explicitly reveals the exact content that it indexes, how it ranks search results, or how it determines that one document is related to another.  A vague explanation is available at

Literature Survey

This assignment, in addition to teach you about the skill of writing a literature survey, is important for networking, useful for find background research for a PhD thesis, and generally benefits research. Once you've done this, you know who to try to meet at conferences, where to look for possible new work, and when you want to, say, sponsor a workshop on a topic, or find a summer internship, you've got the right contacts/people to invite. Also, it helps you to see where your own work fits in and how it is different. 

Many details on the process are provided in readings and will be discussed in class. However here are a few pointers. A literature survey has much in common with a summary, but it takes a broader view. A literature survey generally takes a stance and discusses the papers in order to demonstrate why that stance is valid.  In other words, it is important that you tell a story in your literature survey, rather than simply listing a long list of papers. Papers may contribute through enhancing theory, demonstrating applications, and so on. Often the writer will argue that there is a gap or a need of some sort that is not filled by the literature, alternatively, the contribution of the literature survey may be a new way of framing and/or organizing the knowledge about this topic.

It is not uncommon to read many papers (ofter 3-5 as many as you actually reference) when doing this. Below are a sample survey and that culminated in a journal paper to illustrate both the starting place and a possible ultimate goal, as well as a PandT final survey.

In writing your survey, you should be aiming for an integrative review (a summary of what is currently known about a topic). But keep in mind that while I helped define a topic area (e.g. end user programming), you still need to pick a topic (e.g., "End user programming for finding information in educational contexts", or "pitfalls and successes in evaluating end user programming systems" or so on). In other words, yes, it is appropriate to focus on a subset, and in fact I want you to focus on an aspect of this that is relevant to your own interests/research. This will also help to differentiate you from the excellent review you already found, and allow you to make use of the work they did at the same time.

If you wish to dive deeper than the assigned readings, Writing Computer Science and [xx proposal book] are both worth exploring.