This guide provides information on conducting comprehensive literature searches in preparation for writing the literature review section of a dissertation or thesis.
Last Updated: Nov 11, 2012
We recommend searching all relevant discipline-specific and multi-disciplinary databases. This comprehensive approach improves your chances of finding every significant citation in your area of interest. Where should you start? Consider these strategies:
- UofL Subject Guides
Find the top databases in specific subject areas. If your topic is of interest to researchers in multiple disciplines (as many topics increasingly are), you might want to explore subject guides and databases outside your primary discipline.
- WorldCat Local
Find print and electronic books, archival resources, government documents, and much more from UofL Libraries and other libraries worldwide. WorldCat Local's broad search of library materials worldwide ensures that you are not limiting yourself to locally owned resources.
- ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Find dissertations and theses across all disciplines, including many in full-text. Dissertations can help you understand how graduate students have conducted research on topics related to your area of interest in the past.
- University of Louisville Theses & Dissertations
Find digital copies of theses and dissertations written at UofL. Note: Not all UofL theses and dissertations are included. Ask a librarian for assistance with finding a particular item.
- Google Scholar
Find citations and some full-text links for scholarship across all disciplines. Tip #1: Use Scholar Settings to enable imports into EndNote citation software. Tip #2: Connect Google Scholar to UofL Libraries' full-text article search using the Library Links feature in Scholar Settings. Tip #3: Create a scholar account to enable search alerts. Questions? Ask a librarian!
Many databases offer useful features that facilitate serious research.
- Thesaurus Terms/Subject Terms/Descriptors: Most databases allow you to search for the terms that are used to classify items into categories within the database. If you can locate these terms/descriptors, then you can construct more precise searches. In many cases, this method of searching will lead you to additional words that you can incorporate into your research.
- Field Searching: In many databases, the drop-down menu next to the search box will allow you to search in particular fields (such as title or abstract). Field searching can help you narrow your search if you're retrieving too many irrelevant results.
- Times Cited/Cited By: Many databases (as well as Google Scholar) will show you the number of times that an item has been cited by other items in that database. This type of feature can help you find additional relevant items and determine which items might be most influential in your area of interest. If an item focusing on your topic has been cited numerous times, then it's probably relevant to your research for one reason or another.
- Database Accounts and Alerts: Most prominent database interfaces (including EBSCO, ProQuest, and Ovid) allow users to set up personal accounts. With most accounts, you can organize your citations, save particular searches, and create e-mail and RSS alerts for searches and newly published journal articles.
- UofL InterLibrary Loan and Document Delivery
Request articles, books, and other items not owned by UofL Libraries. UofL faculty and graduate students also have access to Document Delivery, which allows you to request that library-owned print articles and book chapters (less than 50 pages in length) be scanned and delivered to your e-mail account.
- UofL Writing Center
Get individual assistance with drafting, revising, and thinking through your literature review. The Writing Center offers both in-person and virtual appointments.
- EndNote Citation Management Software
EndNote software allows you to compile citations from databases and format them automatically in almost any style (APA, MLA, etc.). EndNote and EndNote Web are FREE to UofL faculty, staff, and students. Click the link for more information.
Open source reference manager and PDF organizer.
Web-browser-based citation software.
- Literature Review Matrix
Check out this approach for identifying themes in your literature review. From Literature Review HQ.
While it is nearly impossible to know with 100% certainty that you've found everything of relevance, the following questions can help you figure out if your literature search has reached critical mass.
- Have I searched all the major databases relevant to my area of interest?
- Am I seeing the same authors/sources over and over again?
- Have I checked through the bibliographies/references of the sources I've found?
- Am I keeping track of new publications through database/journal alerts and regular communication with other researchers?
- Have I talked to a librarian?