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Literature Review Process

Learn how the Libraries can help when you're writing a literature review.

Goals of Literature Searching

The overall goals of the literature search are 1) to refine your topic, and 2) then find as much relevant information as possible on your topic, within reason. Talk to your professor to get guidance on this. The extent of your search will depend on:

  • your final product (research paper, thesis, dissertaton)
  • the time period you will cover
  • how much time you have before deadlines.

Here are objectives that will help you meet the goal of the literature search:

  • Determine the most important databases for your discipline and topic
  • Search for all source types allowed or relevant for your topic, e.g., books, articles, reviews, dissertations and theses, websites, films, etc.
  • Find peer-reviewed empirical and theoretical literature
  • Find peer-reviewed primary and secondary sources. A previously published literature review related to your topic is an invaluable source for developing your topic and finding the important literature.
  • Develop an understanding of the academic terminology for your topic
  • Determine the time frame for the literature review

Resources for Searching

The UNT Libraries have all the sources and search tools you need for your literature review. Our collections contain books, journals, dissertations and theses, films, music and more. Use these search tools to conduct your literature review and contact your subject librarian for guidance (see the Subject Librarians list or Library Hacks: Find Your Subject Librarian video):

Use Catalogs and Databases First!

Why? Because you can do much broader searches in the UNT library catalog and online databases than in full text journal or book packages. 

You don't want to miss any important sources on your topic that are in print here or at another library altogether. The Discover library catalog and databases will link you to the full text journal and book packages, so start your searches in the catalog for books and in electronic databases for journal articles.

What's the difference between a catalog/database and a full text package? A catalog/database has the following characteristics:

  • a catalog includes thousands or millions of records for books, films, music, microforms, etc.
  • a database includes the citations and abstracts (summaries) for thousands of journal articles, book chapters, newspaper articles, etc.
  • may or may not include full text of the documents
  • sophisticated searching capabilities
  • examples - EBSCOhost databases, Web of Science, Lexis Nexis, Discover library catalog, WorldCat

A full text package has the following characteristics:

  • contains the full text of a limited number of electronic journals or books (two dozen to 2000), usually from one publisher
  • basic search capabilities
  • examples - ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR, Sage Journals Online


Steps to Creating Search Strategies

Six Steps to Smart Searching

Identify the keywords in your research question.

Keywords are words that carry content and meaning. The keywords in the research  question "What is the feeding range of the blue whale in the Pacific Ocean?" are feeding range, blue whale and Pacific Ocean.

Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords.

Think of words similar to your keywords in case a database doesn't use your original keywords. Synonyms for blue whale are baleen whale and Balaenoptera musculus.

Create Boolean searches using the keywords.

A Boolean search is a search using the words AND, OR and NOT between the keywords. These words have a special function when used in a database.

  • The search [blue whale AND Pacific Ocean] will find all of the articles that contain both words. AND makes your search narrower.
  • The search [blue whale OR Balaenoptera musculus] will find all articles that contain one word, or the other, or both. OR is placed between synonyms and makes your search broader.
  • The search [blue whale NOT Atlantic Ocean] will find all articles containing "blue whale" and exclude the articles that also contain "Atlantic Ocean." NOT excludes articles that you don't want.  

Use the truncation symbol (or wildcard symbol) to search for word variations.

You can avoid doing multiple searches for variations on word endings using the truncation symbol * (the asterisk) in most databases.  Entering the keyword "blue whale*" will look for both blue whale and blue whales.

Add keywords to limit the type of article you retrieve.

If you want a literature review, add "AND review" to your keywords. To find a research study, add "AND study" to your keywords.

Enter your Boolean searches in the Advanced Search of a database.

Always go to the Advanced Search in a database to enter your Boolean searches because it gives you multiple boxes with the Boolean operators between them. If you are using a search with multiple search strings, enter OR within the search boxes and AND between the search boxes, e.g., [blue whale OR Balaenoptera musculus] AND [feeding range OR feeding grounds] AND [Pacific Ocean].

What is Peer Review?

Many instructors require you to use peer-reviewed sources for your papers and projects, but what does that mean?

  • Peer review is the process of having experts in a field review the quality of an article or book before it is published
  • Most articles in scholarly and academic journals are peer-reviewed
  • Books published by university or academic presses are peer-reviewed

Most databases allow you to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles. Here are two examples:

Use RefWorks to Manage Citations

Don't get buried by scribbled citations written on scraps, napkins, and tissues! Organize and manage the citations from the articles, books and other resources you cite in your literature review using RefWorks, a bibliographic manager.

RefWorks is available through the UNT Libraries for all students, faculty and staff. Learn how to use RefWorks at the library's RefWorks guide, or view UNT's RefWorks video series.

Create Your RefWorks Account Video

If the video below is gray, sign into Microsoft Stream with your UNT email address and EUID password.

Scopus Video Tutorials

If the videos below are gray, sign into Microsoft Stream with your EUID and password.

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