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Literature Reviews

Information and resources on how to conduct different types of literature reviews in all disciplines.

Building Your Search Strategy

Below are some strategies that will help you search databases effectively and efficiently. You don't have to use all of them but try out a few!

Break your research topics into the most important concepts. Don't enter questions or sentences into the database. 

Research topic = create low cost, wearable device to continuously monitor a fetus in utero 

Concepts = low cost, wearable, monitor, fetus

Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to connect keywords. They must be capitalized! Think of the Venn diagrams below to help you decide which operator to use. 

solar panel AND drone  |  solar panel OR drone  |  solar panel NOT drone

Note of caution: If you use NOT, you may be excluding relevant results. So you should do the search both with and without the NOT operator. 

To search for a phrase (2+ words in a row), put the phrase in quotation marks (" ")

"hip replacement"  "logistics planning"  "three-dimensional printing"

Use truncation to find all forms of a word by putting an asterisk (*) at the end of the root word 

computat* = computation, computations, computative, computational, etc. 

Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords and connect them with the OR Boolean operator

drone OR unmanned aerial vehicle OR uncrewed aerial vehicle

Use parentheses ( ) to connect different concepts

(cancer OR tumor OR neoplasm) AND ("mobile phone" OR "cellular phone")

Tips & Tricks While Searching


Most databases allow you to apply filters to your search. These filters are often found on a side or bottom tool bar.  The screenshots below show the filters tool bar for three commonly used databases, PsycINFO, JSTOR and Web of Science. Notice that there are many different types of filters.



Most databases allow you to sort your search results using a drop-down menu. Choosing "most cited" (or cited: highest first) makes sure the documents with the highest number of citations will be at the top. High citation numbers are indicative that the article is important enough to be considered, because other researchers are citing it.

The example below is from the multidisciplinary database Web of Science. Consider sorting your search results this way. Web of Science even has a special Quick Filter checkbox on the left for "Highly Cited Papers."


Consider your perfect article the “seed article.” Look at the Reference List of the article to see what the authors cited, and perhaps find more relevant sources. Then look for a "cited by" feature to see what other researchers have cited your perfect article as time has passed.

The citation map below visualizes this concept, which is also called backward and forward reference searching or reference mining.


Many databases have a "related documents" section that uses an algorithm and keywords to find other articles that might be of interest. Below is a screenshot from the multidisciplinary database Scopus. Look for this feature in your database of choice.