So I'm doing my senior thesis (undergrad) on the politics of emerging technologies and how that applies to artificial intelligence policy. I've been trying to look at past examples of technologies as they were emerging and how research communities, industry, civil groups, and governments react. A good example being developments in recombinant DNA leading to the Asilomar Conference, or fetal tissue stem cell therapy leading to George Bush's executive order on federal funding on the subject. However, I'm running into a few problems:

1) Research is slow because the main search engines I'm using (G-Scholar, JSTOR) bring up a bunch of irrelevant papers. Even if I use quotes, something like ( "emerging technology" politics ) will bring a lot of stuff I don't need. Is there something I can do to help narrow it down to papers that are more relevant for my topic, such as additional terms, or another search engine?

2) I feel like I don't know how to do this kind of research efficiently. I've never done something this complex, and I'm pressed on time, so I can't make any mistakes. At this point, I'm just putting in search terms and finding papers that seem to fit within the general area of my paper and taking notes on Evernote. But, I feel like this could be structured/targeted so much better. What's the best meta-research strategy?

Thanks for your time, and if you have any other relevant suggestions, I'd love to hear.

  • 3
    Do you have a thesis advisor?
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 5:15
  • @ff524 Yes, but he's usually fairly busy/We're all on vacation at the moment, so I want to try figuring it out myself or ask other people before asking him. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 5:26
  • Keep refining your research terms, expanding words to include and those to exclude.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 8:09
  • 3
    Go to your university library with what you have and talk to a librarian. A good research librarian is worth their weight in gold. Show them what you’ve got that matches what you are looking for, tell them of how you are finding useless stuff. They can, and will, help tremendously.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 20:20

2 Answers 2


I teach a doctoral course on doing a literature review, and if one of my doctoral students proposed a topic as broad as yours, I would definitely require them to narrow it down. I don't believe you can successfully treat such a broad topic in such a limited time. I think many of your frustrations arise directly from your topic being overly broad.

For a doctoral student taking on such a topic for a doctoral dissertation, I would recommend that rather than treating "emerging technologies" as a broad topic, the student pick three or four very specific technologies, trace their individual histories, and then compare them thoroughly. That would be a concrete and meaningful way to take on such a topic.

For you, I recommend that you do just one part of that: pick just one specific emerging technology and then focus on the political issues concerning that. It's up to you to decide which specific technology to pick, but I recommend one for which you can find 10 to 30 articles. (A rarer topic with fewer than 10 won't give you much to review; a very popular topic with much more than 30 articles would yield too much for you to work with in your limited time.)

For specific tips on how to search for keywords, you could refer to the tips I gave to the question "What strategies are there for finding literature for a literature survey when the terminology used is diverse?".

Finally, I echo the recommendation in a comment above that you meet with a research librarian. They are trained to help people in situations such as yours.


Regarding literature search I can give you the following suggestion: It sounds you already found some papers that are somehow related to your topic. Maybe your advisor already has some related work in this area? That would also work.

With this publication at hand there are two options to find new interesting work in this area: The reference section of this publication and the publication venue. Look up where the publication was published and read more papers from the same venue.

At this point, I'm just putting in search terms and finding papers that seem to fit within the general area of my paper and taking notes on Evernote. But, I feel like this could be structured/targeted so much better.

However, for me it does not sound that literature search is your main problem. It is structuring your work. It sounds odd, but whenever I come to this point, I start to write the paper or thesis or whatever your goal is.

So just start writing up any thoughts you already have, include the notes you already have with the citations to the papers you already found. This does not have to be a coherent text, just a bunch of unfinished text segments. Eventually you come to the point where you have no notes and no own thoughts left. Then you will see what is already covered by related work and where you still have to find other publications. But now you know what to search for and you can use more precise search terms! Be prepared to rewrite every sentence several times afterwards, but you get the feeling that your work is proceeding and that is a huge motivation boost.

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