Effective Literature Searching
A literature search is likely to be one of the first tasks you undertake in your
research. Writing a literature review can be daunting, frustrating, confusing
and time-consuming. You are expected to be familiar and up-to-date with all
that has been written in your field and to write critically about that literature,
in order to establish your credibility as a researcher and to argue for the relevance of your research. Our survey of research students1 indicates that
many feel moderately confident in their literature searching skills. In our
experience, however, few are strategic, planned or methodical, leading to a
scattered, random approach to literature searching. While they may find relevant papers, many students are left with a lingering feeling of doubt about
how thorough their searches have been.
There are many good resources already available to help you to write up
your literature review2 and it is beyond the scope of this book to discuss the
critical reviewing process itself. Rather, in this chapter we consider:
• the changing nature of information literacy;
• fundamental searching strategies and skills;
• tools for locating literature;
• advice on monitoring literature and keeping up-to-date.
Over to you…
1. What literature-searching strategies do you use most frequently? Which of
the strategies we discuss in this chapter might you usefully add to your
2. What are the key terms and/or phrases you would use to search for literature relevant to your research? How could you limit your searches to take
account of the specifics of your research project?
3. What databases, accessible through your institution, are relevant to your
4. How could searching a citation index be useful for your research?
5. Subscribe to table of contents alerts for key journals in your discipline area.
6. Develop a journal monitoring list.
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