How To Conduct A Literature Search ?


How To Conduct A literature Search?


There are few things we need to know before we conduct a literature search, evaluating the credibility of sources and references is much more complex than in the past, especially with the ease of finding information on the internet. In this article below will give you tips on doing your literature search and guidance on what to do with the references you find.


What exactly is Literature search ? Literature search is a search of all types of published literature to identify as many literature as possible that are relevant and related to a particular topic in a systematic way.A literature search is a part of research process that critical and in depth evaluation of the written literature review which appears in dissertation or thesis.


A literature search can be a daunting process, so before conducting a literature search, there are reasons we need to know why it is important to conduct a literature search. First, you have to identify the field and specific context in which you work is situated. There will be plenty of references and sources of reading to explore, by exploring the topic that related to your research background it can help you in identifying your approach to the research and the methodology you wish to adopt in your research. Second, is to find out what the others have done in the area so you could avoid duplicating previous work.


After finding out what others have done, you can identify areas where research has not yet been undertaken, how other works could be extended, which previous research has left unanswered, how to avoid repeating mistakes, you can identify the gap that your research could fill. The further purpose is to identify key people, organisations (academic, government, professional bodies) and texts which are relevant to your research. begin to notice the familiar names in the literature you found, you may find it useful to search for all the published work and keep an eye on their current publications, your purpose will shift from being exploratory to becoming more focused as your reading progress.


When conducting academic research there are different information sources you can get from, the most common sources are:


Books, books are the most common source for many new researchers as the beginning of a research, there is a various types of books you could refer as part of your work. The following are the most important.


  • Textbooks, contain the underpinning principles, concepts, and theories of a field.
  • Specialised books, may for example on research completed for a PhD thesis or a specific theoretical area of a field of research, may include a collection of chapters written by different authors on a particular specialist theme with an overall editor or editorial board that has collected together and reviewed the contributions for the books.
  • Reference books, such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias. These are now likely to be available in electronic and/or printed format.


Journal Articles, contains collections of peer-reviewed academic articles which are written by different researches or practitioners in a particular field..Journal include the most recent ideas in circulation in a discipline and the majority are now available electronically. most journals publish between three and six issues in a single year, the issues in one year are collated in to a volume.


Published literature reviews of a field, this may be in the form of either a journal articles or a book and provide a summary and synthesis of research or theory in field. They are known as systematic reviews and are usually undertaken by a team of academic and professionals to investigate a clearly focused aim or question.


‘Grey literature’, The term grey literature refers to research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form.. Typically includes:


  • Reports, could be written by companies or government organisations and might report, for example on an investigation into an event ir situation, its finding and recommendations.
  • Theses and dissertations, they  refer to both master's theses and doctoral dissertations. Electronic  versions are becoming more widely available, such as British Library’s EthOs (Eletronic Thesis Online Services).
  • Conference Literature, academic conferences produce collections of printed abstracts and often published proceedings. Proceedings consist of a selection of the papers presented at the conference.
  • Popular media, such as newspapers, magazines, and practitioner trade journals may be relevant for some research topics so that a researcher can find out contemporary events and interpretations, and reactions from the general public.
  • Monographs/work-in-progress papers, some research centres may make specialist papers available which are produced for other researchers and professionals in the field.
  • Specialist literature and primary data sources, in some specialist  fields, the literature may also include maps, music, diaries, letters, manuscripts of poems and novels, patents and other legal documents.

Websites, a wide range of various types of information can be found through websites and judgments about the quality of the material accessed have to be made on an individual basis. Website such as Wikipedia it is not usually deemed to be an academically reliable sources of information, many academic institutions do not accept Wikipedia as a reference due to the open access editing of its pages which anyone can edit.


All sources of information must be evaluated carefully before including in your academic writing as specially the case for online sources. For a list of references in your academic writing, you should be able to include both the author and the date for every source, if either is not traceable it is important to consider carefully whether the reference should be used.


Before adding the online sources to your academic writing, you need to understanding the URL structure of a website, you can see the URL in the box at the top of the screen, and often there is a ‘site map’ tab which will show you the structure of the entire site and enable you to find way more quickly to the information that you need.


Few points below will help you to evaluate the online sources of information:


Who or what organization has produce the site ?the site may have an ‘About Us’ tab, you can discover more. You can find out about an author’s professional background and qualification by doing an internet search for the author or organization name.


When was the site produced or last edited ?if you can’t find when the information was written, it may not suitable for use. If your publication date is given but the sources is old assess whether this makes it unsuitable for your purpose.


What type of online resources is it ?if you have accessed a form of social media such as a wiki or blog it will not be suitable to use in your academic paper. The use of information from a social media source may be acceptable in certain disciplines and contexts but this should be confirmed with tutors.


Is the content presented in a logical way with a strong enough evidence? Does the authors appear to be presenting a balanced argument ?is there a list of references included ? if there are errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling, it’s likely that the source has not been peer reviewed or even checked and hence is not a reputable source to use.


As stated, with the ease of finding information on the internet,  the information sources you require may be available in electronic form, for example, Directory of Open Access Journals - DOAJ ( There may be links to a journal articles or e-books from an individual academic’s personal web page.

In this section, we move on to consider the main tools you can use to initiate your searches for this information. The search tools available can be divided into the following categories:



Library catalogues (Online Pubic Access Catalogues – OPACs), it provide bibliographical details and locations of all the publications held within a particular library. The catalogue is likely to be a computer database which can be accessed on the university  network. So if you have access to university computer or an internet connection you do not actually have to be in the library to use it for your searches.


Bibliographical database,

A bibliographical database is an organized list of publications in a particular subject area. The publications included vary between different databases but their main focus is usually on journal articles and conference papers. The access of the database may depend on your university subscription to the electronic journal concerned. Some examples of  the database include: the Web of Knowledge (Wok) for literature in the sciences, arts and humanities; MEDLINE for biomedical literature; ProQuest for ebooks, journal articles ad dissertations in wide range of disciplines; the Cochrane database of systematic reviews in the area of health; Index to these (UK theses); EthOs (The British Library’s Electronic Thesis Online Services); and Dissertation abstracts (US and worldwide dissertations and theses). As mentioned, by logging in as a user to your library web page, you will find the range of databases available which related to your subject area.


Internet search engines

Search engines are very large database, it trawl a large number of database and website to look for information to create their own database of webpages. Within a particular search engines, you can look for information by entering key words in the ‘search’ box. A series of web documents is then retrieved.

Google Scholar ( is a more specific search engines which provides a tool to search for scholarly or academic web page links.


Open access database

A number of open access repositories of information are now available on the internet, this mean that access to the documents included in a database is available to all and is not dependent on an individual or institution subscription, such as mentioned before DOAJ (, and PubMed, a publicly available version of Medline which provides information in the field of health and medical sciences.


Professional organization websites

There are many professional organisations with websites which provide a large amount of useful information, contacts and links which can lead you to relevant and up-to-date soucers. Such as The United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) (, The Royal College Of Nursing (RCN) ( , and The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) (


After collecting and gathering the sources and the informations that relevant to your literature search, it is important to track and record your search. The proposed topic of research, name of catalogues, database search engines, or social bookmarking site, keyword searches conducted or tags used, result of search (e.g. articles and books located) and date of search are few point that will enable you to track and record your literature search neatly



THE LITERATURE REVIEW – step by step guide for student second edition


Diana Ridley