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Doing a literature search

Effective searching for your literature review

The sections of this guide will provide techniques to use in order to get better search results and save time when finding and using your keywords, performing a search, narrowing down your results and saving them.

Use the tabs above for step by step guidance on searching for literature.



Practice your search skills

A useful interactive guide to literature searching from the NHS Knowledge & library Hub:

   A literature review is more than just collecting sources of information and summarising the published work you have collected related to your topic.

You need to compare and contrast the main arguments and aspects of the literature you have read around and notice key areas where authors are in disagreement.

Once this has been done you must relate your own ideas and findings within the context of existing research.


Plan ahead

   Make sure you understand the requirements of your assignment, this is essential before you begin the planning stage.

   Think about how broad or narrow the scope of your research needs to be, and what type of assignment is it (eg: is it an essay, 1000 word report or final year dissertation?)

   Ask yourself what type of information do I need? Use your course subject guide and the online library for credible subject specific resources such as academic journals and eBooks. You may also want to include Google Scholar and the websites of governmental and professional bodies.

   More study advice can be found on the University's Brighton Student Skills Hub page



Before doing your search, take time to think about your topic. Rather than searching using a long sentence, break down your question or research topic down into distinct parts, whilst also thinking of alternative terms (synonyms) for your keywords, these can be used to increase the scope and effectiveness of your search.

Search Techniques and Tips
  Search for phrases: searching for words in quotation marks eg. "structural engineering" directs the search engine to search for the two words next to each other, not just two words unconnected anywhere within the pages of journal articles. Therefore the search retrieves instances of that phrase to increase relevance in your results

Look out for: UK and US spellings of the same words eg. behaviour and behavior, organisation and organization: use both spellings in separate search fields or search using: organi?ation (search term truncation, see below) in order to include both forms of spelling


   AND / OR / NOT search operators known as Boolean Searching allows you to use keywords when searching for online journals in a way to save time and ensure your results are effective and relevant:

OR expands search results = more results

e.g. Cats OR Dogs

AND limits search results = less results

e.g.  Cats AND Dogs

NOT (or AND NOT) limits search results

e.g. Cats NOT Dogs

Search term truncation:

Truncation or Wildcards - (symbols e.g. * ?). These represent ways of finding different variations and spellings alternative words with a similar meaning, e.g.:

educat* will find educate, educates, education, educating, educator(s) etc.,

midwi* will find alternative words or terms: widwife, midwives, midwifery.

wom?n will find woman and women

You can filter your search results. These options include:

  Limit / refine your search - limit by full text only, date range, language, format or type of publication, academic discipline, etc.

  Order - most databases let you choose the order in which you view your results, e.g. by date of publication and relevance to search terms. The default for most databases is to put the most relevant at the top of the results.

  Citations - use the citations that are listed at the end of a relevant article to lead you to other useful resources.  When you find a useful article look to see what key terms were used to index it, plus what other authors have been cited in these articles, whose own work on a similar area of research may also be useful.

  Create an account - you can register with some databases.  Once registered you can set your preferred interests and subject areas, save and export searches into referencing software and word documents, and set up alerts.

Quick search in OneSearch

OneSearch is a great place to start your research. It searches the libraries book, ebook and journal collections together as well as many other records. This video will show you how to do a quick search.

Advanced searching using One Search

OneSearch is a great tool for finding research but with so much available it can sometimes be hard to find exactly what you need. Advanced searching can really help focus your search. The techniques in this video can be used in all databases.