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MRS213 Research Skills Guide

Literature Review

A literature review is a form of academic writing which should provide an overview of existing knowledge and research in a particular topic area or field of research.

To learn more about literature reviews and how to undertake a literature review check out the following guide:

Science Honours Guide - this guide works through the process of undertaking a literature review

Literature Review - a detailed guide designed to help students and research staff with the process of conducting and writing a literature review.

Searching for literature

To find the best and most relevant articles for your literature review you should approach your information search in a methodical or systematic way. 

To begin you need to develop a search strategy - this may evolve and change as you search.


Note: Keep a Record of your Search Activity

You may find it helpful to keep a search diary or document detailing your search activities. This will help to keep track of effective search terms, and helps others to reproduce your steps if required. 

This record could be a document, table or spreadsheet with:

  • The names of the sources you search and which provider you accessed them through - eg Medline (Ovid), Web of Science (Thomson Reuters). You should also include any other literature sources you used.
  • The search strategies that you applied when searching different sources (eg Medline, Web of Science) can be added as an appendix to your document.
  • The number of search results from each source and each strategy used.  This can be the evidence you need to prove a gap in the literature, and confirms the importance of your research question.

Developing your search strategy

1.  Consider using a question framework, such as PICO.

2.  From there, identify the 2-4 main concepts, these become the basis of your search terms/phrases.

3.  Brainstorm keywords and phrases as synonyms for each concept. (This will be an ongoing process as you learn more about your subject and do more reading). Remember to consider the following:

  • scientific terms as well as common terms
  • alternative spellings (US v UK)
  • culturally specific terms
  • abbreviations, acronyms and plurals

4.  Once you've come up with as many specific terms as you can find combine them with boolean operators and relevant search techniques.

  • Taking one concept at a time, connect each term or phrase (synonym) with OR.
  • Then connect these now big groups representing each concept with the AND operator to see where all the concepts overlap.

5.  Now consider the limits of your search and apply them. This may include such refinements as date of publication, geographical area, language, type of study. Do your search first, and then limit the final set of results.

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