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Introduction to Literature Review Searching

Defining your search question

Literature Reviews are an important part of academic work providing an overview and analysis of a research question or topic. You may be asked to write one for your dissertation, project or essay assignment.

A good Literature Review should put your research into context, demonstrating how it relates to wider research in your subject area. The Literature Review should show a clear understanding and knowledge of your chosen topic, include relevant current research and key authors, and identify any areas in the literature that support need for further research.

Where to search

For Literature Reviews and Essays and Assignments you will usually be asked to focus on academic and peer-reviewed sources, like textbooks, journal articles, research reports and conference proceedings. You can find these from the Library’s Electronic and Print collections.

  • Search MetSearch - Cardiff Met's library discovery service: a single place to search our print and electronic collections.
  • Select databases from the Databases A-Z, to search for articles or other sources. You can select from the drop-down menu by Subject or by School. For more information on Databases see our handy guide.
  • Explore the Subject Guides for further information and suggested resources for your subject area.
  • For further advice you can email or make a 1-to-1 appointment with one of our Academic Librarians for searching advice.

Creating your search strategy

  • Focus on your question: begin your search by focusing on your question to develop your search strategy. A focused and structured search strategy will help you search quickly and efficiently and yield useful results!
  • Choose your Search Terms: select keywords and short phrases to search with. Use a range of keywords, try to think of alternative words or similar words to build your search.
  • Think about Synonyms: different words that refer to the something of the same meaning, for example: survey or questionnaire.
  • Put Keywords into context, beware of Homonyms: words with the same spelling but different meaning. For example, 'Right = Correct' and 'Right = Direction, opposite to left'
  • Use any related terms to further your search e.g. Business – Management
  • Think about abbreviations and relevant acronyms in your topic.

Search Techniques

Using Search Techniques allows you to build your search to expand or focus your results.

Phrase searching

Placing your keywords, two words or more into “double quotation marks”, creates a phrase search. This can be used to focus your results to more relevant results, especially if search has generated numerous results.

“Formative Assessment” “Strategic Management”

Tip! This is used in most databases, but Scopus uses {curly brackets} for exact phrase - {Health Promotion}

Truncation & Wildcards

Truncation is useful if you want to include variations of a keyword, it allows you to simultaneously search for various word endings. Search using the stem of a word and an Asterisk * for example, therap* to find therapy, therapies, therapist, therapeutic.

Wildcards are useful to searching for with various spellings – which is usually a question mark ? to substitute a letter of a word. For example, “organi?ation” will give you “organisation” and “organization” in the search results.

Tip! Different databases use different symbols, check before searching.

Boolean Operators

To create an effective search, you need to combine your keywords together into a string, linking them together to construct your search. You can link the keywords using Boolean Operators AND, OR, NOT to construct string to expand or narrow your results. They are used in Capital letters as they are instructions to the database as to how you want the keywords to be searched for.

AND - Use AND to focus your search, an AND search returns both keywords in the results, for example, students AND “Higher Education”.

OR - Use OR to widen your search, using OR search returns either keywords in the results, for example, university OR education.

NOT - Use NOT to exclude keywords from your results, for example, “South Wales” NOT Australia.

This can help remove non-relevant results, but always use it at the end of the search string. Using NOT can filter out some useful results so it may be for some searches you add additional Keywords to focus the results instead.