This guide takes the literature searching process step by step. It is aimed at those needing to complete a thorough and systematic literature search for example as part of a final project, dissertation or thesis. For shorter and less detailed research you may only need a few of the steps. In each section you'll find videos and links to support you. If you would like to get some further guidance please email your Falmer Information Advisers at FalmerSubjectTeam@brighton.ac.uk
This may sound obvious but the best starting point for your literature search is to spend a few minutes thinking about what it is you know already about your topic.
You may have covered this topic in a previous module, or maybe it originates from a placement or from professional experience. Whatever the origin of your interest think about what evidence you may already have, for example lecture notes, a reading list, an article or report.
A single document can be a good jumping off point to start some background reading - has that author written anything else? Does your document have a reference list? - Are any of those references worth exploring?
If you don’t have a suitable document don’t worry. The next step is a basic search to identify some literature.
These books will cover the whole researching process and will be good to refer to as you work your way through each step. For more books on all aspects of the literature review process see the study skills page of this guide: https://libguides.brighton.ac.uk/psychology/studyskills
A scoping search is an initial search that you undertake at the start of a project. This doesn’t have to be thorough or systematic, it’s a fact-finding search to see what literature is out there and a chance to explore themes which may provide a focus for your research topic or help you refine your research question.
Begin your search by entering the keywords from your question into either OneSearch (opens in new window) or Google Scholar (opens in new window). These tools allow you to discover different types of materials such as conference papers and books as well as journal articles and will give you a good overview of literature that exists on your topic.
Scan through the results using the abstract (the short description) to give you more information. Books will generally touch on broad topics and can be useful for background reading. Articles will usually be about very specific topics. Save articles that look useful or email yourself the link to the record.
Yes absolutely. Using Google or a similar search engine is also recommended as this is often the best way to find relevant websites and government literature. When you gather research via this method you always need to assess whether it is suitable for inclusion in an academic paper. For some more guidance on searching Google more effectively and critically evaluating web literature see the 'Using the web for research' page of your subject guide: https://libguides.brighton.ac.uk/psychology/webresearch
The videos below will show you how to do some basic searching in OneSearch and Google Scholar, and also how to search for ebooks and journals using the online library tools.
A short introduction to doing a basic search in OneSearch. Learn how to narrow your results and access full text. Please note this video was made in 2019. Studentcentral is now called My Studies.
A short introduction to finding ebooks through the library catalogue and how to use the basic online functions.
An introduction to what a journal is and how to find a specific journal by title using the Journal A-Z.
All search engines work on the same principle: they retrieve information based on the keywords you put in. As a rule, the greater the number of words you can think of to describe a topic, the more hits you will get back. For your topic/question you should think of as many alternative terms that you can.
Identifying alternative terms can be difficult, especially if you are unfamiliar with the subject area. Use the results from your background reading and scoping search to identify keywords. Think about how your keywords may be used in different countries, for example in a UK article about university level education the term 'Higher Education' may be used whereas an article from an American journal may use the term 'tertiary' or 'college educaton'.
Let's say my question is: "How does the quantity and quality of green space on University campuses matter for student and staff wellbeing?"
Firstly I want to identify my key concepts. These are;
Now I want to list all the alternative ways I could search for these concepts. For example:
Note that the 'quantity and quality' part of the question is not included in the search terms. Most research questions will have an evaluative element to them for example: assess, discuss,(what are the) advantages, disadvantages, pros and cons. These words rarely need to be included as search terms and may unnecessarily complicate your search.
It's useful to write all of these terms in a basic list or grid. You can also add words as you read more literature. Remember that searching is an iterative process: you build and adapt your search as you go along and you can't expect to get it right first time.
The American Psychological Association have topic guides which provide suggestions of keywords to use in your search.
In your scoping search you may have used OneSearch or Google Scholar. These tools have advanced search features which means they can also be used for more complex searching.
To ensure that you are finding the most relevant literature, it is also advisable to use one of the library's more specialised resources. You can find a list of these in the key resources and tutorials tab on your subject guide:https://libguides.brighton.ac.uk/psychology/keyresources
There is no hard and fast rule. It is unlikely that you would need to search in all of them, but if you are undertaking a comprehensive literature review you will need to broaden the scope of your search by using more than one. Make your decision based on what you need to achieve. For example, if you need to find two or three articles choosing one of these tools will likely be enough, if you are writing a longer essay or dissertation/thesis use more.
We’d recommend searching APA PsycInfo (opens in new window) which is a specialist psychology database. There is another specialist resource called ProQuest Psychology database (opens in new window) which is also worth searching. In addition we would also recommend searching in Scopus (opens in new window). This is a huge multidisciplinary database which contains a lot of psychology research. Although it does not have psychology as it’s specialism this actually works in its favour because it will allow you to find relevant psychology literature in journals which are not typically about psychology.
Below are two examples of literature searches using the question and keywords from Step Three. Search A has used APA PsycInfo and Search B has used Scopus (first 50 results only). Both have given me really relevant results and each search contains unique articles which is why it is a good idea to search in both. Arguably the results in Scopus are more relevant than in APA PyscInfo. The search has revealed that a lot of literature on this particular aspect of psychology (ecopsychology) is published in geography, urban design and built environment journals. Many of these journals are not included in APA PsycInfo because they are not psychology titles.
In this step we'll look at how to type your search strategy into your chosen databases. Most databases work in the same way therefore you have to understand the basic rules of constructing a search (which we'll cover here) and then you can use any of the resources mentioned in the previous steps.
How you enter your search terms can make a difference to your results so you need to search in a structured way. There are a number of techniques you can use to make sure you are searching efficiently, such as putting phrases in speech marks and using an * sign to search for words which have a common root but different endings. These are advanced searching steps and are not compulsory but worth learning if you are not getting the right type of results using a more basic strategy.
At this stage you will also want to think about how to filter your results, especially if you have too many. This may be by date or by language or location. The database you are using will have built in limiters to allow you to do this easily.
The videos below will demonstrate how to build a search and refine it using some of the techniques mentioned above.
This video created by the Library is an overview of the whole step by step process. It demonstrates all of the steps you have done so far.
Learn how to do a more complex and detailed search in OneSearch. *Studentcentral is now called My Studies*
A video created by the American Psychological Association (APA) demonstrating a search in the APA PsycInfo database.
Learn how to do a search in Scopus
We haven't got a video on this subject so we've borrowed one from Manchester Metropolitan University Library. It will show you how to use the * symbol and wildcards (just ignore the MMU bit!).
Not as fun as it sounds. This is a technique where you can use a key book or journal to find further research.
The best database to use for this task is Scopus (opens in new window).which maps vast numbers of citations. Run a search in Scopus, identify the most relevant results and then explore the reference list, citations and related articles of each result. It's often possible to return results which haven't come up in your initial search.
A word of caution. This search technique is difficult to do systematically and it can be hard to keep track of what you have found. We'd recommend you do this in addition to a more structured search, as doing all of your searching using this technique will not be thorough.
This video demonstrates how to use Scopus to practice the snowballing search method.
There are a number of different ways to access the materials you need once you have found them in a database.
An article record may have a PDF attached or there may be a link saying 'Full Text'. If there isn't, look for the 'Find it @Brighton' link. There is usually one located in every search result. This will take you to the full text of an article if we subscribe to it.
The library doesn't have access to everything you find via a database. If the Find it @Brighton link directs you to a message saying 'we have no online access' there are two options.
Check for an open access version. Copy and paste the title into Google and see if an OA version of the article exists. Sometimes articles which are open access do not come up in a database search so it's worth double checking.
If you cannot find it online then you can submit an Inter library loan request. This means that the library will try and obtain an online copy of the article for you. There is a limit to how many times you can do this. First and second year undergraduate students can request three articles per year with no charge, final year undergraduates can request ten, and taught postgraduates can request fifteen. Research students and staff have an unlimited quota. It is also possible to request books through Interlibrary loan if the library does not have the book you need.
You can request both articles and books using the Interlibrary loan button below, or via the Interlibrary loan link in the library catalogue.Request an Interlibrary loan »
Technically this shouldn't be the last step as referencing is something you should be keeping track of all the way through your work.
The School of Applied Social Sciences uses the 'author date' style of referencing which requires you to reference the author and date in brackets in the body of your work and create a reference list at the end of your paper. There are different versions of this method including Harvard and APA. You should always check which referencing style you are required to use.
The library has a number of online resources that can help you with your referencing. We'd recommend using the Cite them Right website for help with understanding about Harvard and APA referencing. ZoteroBib is worth exploring for easy reference creation. For more information about both see the referencing page of your subject guide; https://libguides.brighton.ac.uk/psychology/referencing