An effective literature review is always built on the foundation of a high quality literature search, one that is comprehensive and systematic. And for any new project, a literature search is a crucial early step in the research process.

Finding literature on a question is usually easy; finding the right literature, and all of the most relevant literature for a solid literature review, is harder.

Through explanatory notes and practical, step-by-step guidance, we've designed this guide to help you understand how to effectively plan and carry out your literature searches.

Feedback from the community

Your Guide is simply superb.  Many thanks for a great resource which I will be promoting with advanced stage degree students in food science agriculture and veterinary medicine here in UCD.  It is the best guide I have come across in some time so many thanks for this "Toolkit".  This will be invaluable for UCD -Students, those new to research, and those who need a refresher in literature searching. 

Carmel Norris, College Liaison Librarian, School of Agriculture & Food Science, University College Dublin


I found helpful information in the literature search guide which helped me to find many food science articles relevant to my honours project.
Asgiri Jayasekara, Student, University of Adelaide

The guide is also available to read on LibGuides in English, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese language (more translations to come!). For librarians and faculty teaching information literacy skills, we also offer a free SCORM package for an online e-learning module which can be added to your own learning management system (LMS).

Contents of the Literature Searching Best Practice Guide

Part 1: Introduction to literature searching and literature reviews

About this guide

1. What is literature searching?

  • What is “literature”?
  • Why undertake literature searches?

2. What are literature reviews?

  • Standalone reviews
  • Integrated reviews

3. What is critical appraisal

  • What is quality and how do you assess it?
  • Evidence hierarchies

Part 2: Practical guide to literature searching

1. Search process overview

  • Steps for a literature review

2. Managing references

  • Comparing software
  • Best practice

3. Defining your research question

  • How to frame a question
  • Example questions
  • Downloadable template
  • Exclusions and inclusions
  • Best practice

4. Where to search

  • Databases
  • Search engines
  • Academic search engines
  • Researcher platforms
  • Publisher platforms
  • Library discovery services
  • Best practice

5. Search strategy

  • Shaping a search string
  • Search matrix
  • Downloadable template
  • Boolean operators
  • Phrase searching, truncation and wildcards
  • Best practice
  • Handsearching
  • Best practice

6. Screening results

  • Best practice

7. Paper acquisition

  • Thinking about budgeting
  • Copyright considerations
  • Best practice

8. Critical appraisal

  • Downloadable template
  • Additional critical appraisal checklists
  • Documenting critical appraisal decisions
  • Downloadable template
  • Best practice

9. Summary of best practice recommendations and templates

10. Further resources