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Literature reviews

Planning your search strategy and how to find, store, organise, evaluate and critique information for your literature review.

Plan your search strategy

Get started

  1. Plan your search
    • Identify the main concepts and keywords on your topic. Think about synonyms for the keywords and variant spellings.
  2. Choose where and how to search
  3. Do quick preliminary searches to see the kind of literature available and the terminology used on your topic.

Image: Note pencil, by icon 54, The Noun Project CC BY 4.0

For any really relevant article or resource


  • The reference list for more relevant articles
  • The author/s - have they published other articles on this topic?
  • What keywords are used to describe the topic. Add those keywords to your search.
  • Who has cited the article. What they have written may be relevant to your topic.

In-depth research

For in-depth research you may need to use special methods to find as much as you can on your topic:

  • Cited reference searching - Identify key journal articles on your topic and then find articles that cite those key articles to find more relevant literature.
  • Grey literature - Find information not available via traditional channels of publishing and distribution, such as conference proceedings, government reports and technical reports.
  • Search alerts - Alerts set up in databases or journals notify you when new results are published that match your saved search.

Have I searched enough?

You have probably found the main literature on your topic if:

  • You have already seen most of the references cited in the key papers you have found
  • The publications citing key authors and papers are ones you have already found. Do a cited reference search to see who is citing the key authors and papers. 
  • You keep seeing the same papers, authors and themes again and again as you search


Search record

Keep a record of your searches to keep track of what you have done.

What to record

  • Date
  • Where you searched/ database names
  • Search terms
  • Number of results
  • Notes on any other relevant information

Use spreadsheets

A spreadsheet is a useful method for recording the details of your search.

Attend our Microsoft Excel training sessions to learn essential spreadsheet concepts and skills.

Google Sheets is another option.

Example of spreadsheet showing Date; Database; Search terms; Number of results; Duplicates; Total; Notes. Example searches: Web of Science - ("gr*y parrot*" OR "psittacus erithacus") AND (language OR speech OR vocal* OR communicat* OR talk* OR speak*); Scopus - ( "grey parrot"  OR  "gray parrot"  OR  "psittacus erithacus" )  AND  ( language  OR  speech  OR  vocal*  OR  communicat*  OR  talk*  OR  speak* ); APA PsycNET - ( "grey parrot"  OR  "gray parrot"  OR  "psittacus erithacus" )  AND  ( language  OR  speech  OR  vocal*  OR  communicat*  OR  talk*  OR  speak* )