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Literature Review

This guide will help get you started with searching for information for your literature review.

How to search effectively

The Literature searching interactive tutorial includes self-paced, guided activities to assist you in developing  effective search skills..

1. Identify search words

Analyse your research topic or question

  • What are the main ideas?
  • What concepts or theories have you already covered?
  • Write down your main ideas, synonyms, related words and phrases.


  • If you're looking for specific types of research, use these suggested terms: qualitative, quantitative, methodology, review, survey, test, trend (and more).
  • Be aware of UK and US spelling variations. E.g. organisation OR organization, ageing OR aging.

2. Connect your search words

Find results with one or more search words

Use OR between words that mean the same thing.

E.g. adolescent OR teenager

This search will find results with either (or both) of the search words.


Find results with two search words

Use AND between words which represent the main ideas in the question.

E.g. adolescent AND “physical activity”

This will find results with both of the search words.


Exclude search words

Use NOT to exclude words that you don’t want in your search results.

E.g. (adolescent OR teenager) NOT “young adult”

3. Use search tricks

Search for different word endings

Truncation *

The asterisk symbol * will help you search for different word endings.

E.g. teen* will find results with the words: teen, teens, teenager, teenagers

Specific truncation symbols will vary. Check the 'Help' section of the database you are searching.


Search for common phrases

Phrase searching “...........”

Double quotation marks help you search for common phrases and make your results more relevant.

E.g. “physical activity” will find results with the words physical activity together as a phrase.


Search for spelling variations within related terms

Wildcards ?

Wildcard symbols allow you to search for spelling variations within the same or related terms.

E.g. wom?n will find results with women OR woman

Specific wild card symbols will vary. Check the 'Help' section of the database you are searching.


Search terms within specific ranges of each other

Proximity  w/#

Proximity searching allows you to specify where your search terms will appear in relation to each other.

E.g. pain w/10 morphine will search for pain within ten words of morphine

Specific proximity symbols will vary. Check the 'Help' section of the database you are searching.

4. Improve your search results

All library databases are different and you can't always search and refine in the same way. Try to be consistent when transferring your search in the library databases you have chosen.

Narrow and refine your search results by:

  • year of publication or date range (for recent or historical research)
  • document or source type (e.g. article, review or book)
  • subject or keyword (for relevance). Try repeating your search using the 'subject' headings or 'keywords' field to focus your search
  • searching in particular fields, i.e. citation and abstract. Explore the available dropdown menus to change the fields to be searched.

When searching, remember to:

Adapt your search and keep trying

Searching for information is a process and you won't always get it right the first time. Improve your results by changing your search and trying again until you're happy with what you have found.

Keep track of your searches

Keeping track of searches saves time as you can rerun them, store references, and set up regular alerts for new research relevant to your topic.

Most library databases allow you to register with a personal account. Look for a 'log in', 'sign in' or 'register' button to get started.

Manage your references

There are free and subscription reference management programs available on the web or to download on your computer.

  • EndNote - The University has a license for EndNote. It is available for all students and staff, although is recommended for postgraduates and academic staff.
  • Zotero - Free software recommended for undergraduate students.