What is a literature search?
- A literature search is a methodical search for all (sometimes a subset) of the literature published on a topic.
- An effective literature search demands an organized and systematic approach. A haphazard search will ultimately prove unsuccessful and of little use.
- Before beginning a literature search, you must develop a search strategy.
Developing a search strategy
- Define your topic -- narrow down your research question
- Identify the type of literature you're looking for (primary research, systematic reviews, research reports, policy documents, books, etc.)
- Identify resources to search (databases, government or organization websites, library catalogs, etc.)
- Develop keywords (search terms) that are logical and relevant to your search
- Determine the scope of your search (what will you search for? What will you exclude from the search?)
- Design a way to keep records for what you find
- Library databases
- Government websites
- Organization websites
- Literature presented at conferences
- Keywords have to be logical and directly related to your specific topic. Vague words like relationship, pros & cons, effects, etc., should be discarded as they can relate to any topic.
- Choose nouns instead of verbs, to make your searches more relevant. Databases work best when you use only nouns
- For unambiguous topics, you can use phrase searching (a phrase in quotation marks), such as "universal health insurance"
- Use Boolean operators (AND, NOT, OR) for more specific searching: meiosis OR mitosis; "composite hydrogels" AND "phase separation"
- As you look at your results list, you may be able to pick up more key terms to use in searches, for even more targeted results
Additional search strategies
- Searching the reference lists -- look for possible sources in relevant articles you have found by reading their reference lists
- Searching authors -- if you find many key articles by the same author, you could run an author search to see what else the author may have published that would be relevant to your project
- Read journal tables of content -- check the tables of contents of journals that contain a relevant article to see if there may be more