Literature search best practice

Part 2. A practical guide for undertaking literature searches for literature reviews

This guide is designed for researchers and students in the sciences of food and health; however, much of the content will be useful to those working in other disciplines.

The purpose of your search will determine to an extent how extensive your search is - is it a scoping exercise to see what research has already been conducted on your question? A scan of new literature on a topic with which you are already au fait? Or a comprehensive mapping exercise to determine all the research that has been done in your area? Regardless of purpose, you will want to be sure that your search effectively picks up all the important literature relating to your question.

To help you do this, we explore five areas, each key to a successful literature search:

  • Defining your research question
  • Determining where you are most likely to find the literature
  • Creating an effective search strategy for each of the resources that you are going to search.
  • Deciding what to include in your review through critical appraisal
  • Things to bear in mind – reference management, copyright, paper acquisition and data protection

We provide downloadable templates which you can adapt to your needs to plan your literature search and additional supporting text and guidance to read if you need further information.

1. Defining your research question

  • Explanation
  • TEMPLATE—framing your question 

2. Determining where you are most likely to find the literature 

3. Creating an effective strategy for each of the resources that you are going to search

  • Explanation
  • TEMPLATE—search strategy

4. Deciding what to include in your review through critical appraisal

  • Explanation
  • TEMPLATE—critical appraisal checklist

5. Things to bear in mind - reference management, copyright, paper acquisition and data protection

Appendix A. Resources consulted for the guide

Appendix B. Other resources you may find useful