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Searching for your Literature Review: Plan

Conducting a literature review

To find material on the topic and manage what you find you will need to:

  • determine your selection criteria
  • search a variety of different search tools
  • search using a variety of keywords and subject headings (descriptors) in various combinations
  • capture and organise your search results using a tool such as EndNote

To better understand the 'type' of review you may need to conduct, look at the information in the following guides. 

The Planning Process

The following steps are involved in the planning process:

  ♦  Identify your topic
Build your search
Analyse your task 

  • Why are you writing this? To persuade, describe, discuss?
  • What type of information do you need?
  • How recent should the information be? Historical, current
  • Where will you find the information you need? 

  ♦ Access the search tools

Remember, searching is not a linear process. 
You may change your search as you discover more information.

The type of sources required

What type of information do you need? Do you need to use primary, secondary or tertiary sources? Secondary and tertiary sources are generally indexed by library databases. 


  primary sources:
diaries, letters, interviews, personal journals, laboratory log books, statistical information, survey results or raw data 

​  secondary sources:
background information and summarised results of research work in an area of study. Secondary sources include books, articles and theses

​  tertiary sources:
compile the information available in secondary sources and include systematic reviews, case studies, and bibliographies


Medical and Health sciences sources

 primary sources
Journal articles detailing original research. They tend to be very specific and written by experts in the field. 

 secondary sources
Provide interpretations, explanations and summaries of primary sources. Common sources include review articles in journals

 tertiary sources
Primary and secondary source information which has been collated and summarised. Introduce the current state of research on a topic. Examples include encyclopaedias, almanacs, and pathfinders


Legal material

  Primary sources
are the law as created by the parliament and the courts including bills, legislation, regulations, explanatory memoranda and case law

 Secondary sources
assist you in locating and interpreting primary sources. They include books, digests, legal dictionaries, legal encyclopaedias, parliamentary debates (Hansard), parliamentary papers, looseleaf services, journal articles and newspaper articles

Techniques for developing your search strategy

If you need to do a comprehensive literature review as part of your research you should take time to map out or table your search. Watch the below video to learn how to do this successfully:

For more help see:

Build your search

Combine keywords using OR, AND or NOT

Combines similar keywords:

Using OR will broaden your search to find items containing either or both of your keywords

e.g. work OR employment


Combines different keywords:

Using AND will narrow your search to find items containing both of your keywords

e.g. management AND employees


Excludes words from the search:

Be very cautious about using NOT as you may exclude potentially useful items

e.g. email NOT spam


Save time searching using TruncationWildcard and Phrase searching

Asterisk *

finds any word ending eg. learn* finds learn, learners, learning
Wildcards Question mark ? finds different word spellings eg. organi?ation finds organisation, organization
Phrase search Double qoutation marks " " keeps 2 or more words together as a phrase eg. "higher education"

Learn more: