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Literature Reviews

What is a Research Database?

 What IS a research database?

  • Use to identify articles in the professional literature.
  • Are usually discipline/subject specific.
  • File of bibliographic records (citations).
  • Article descriptions with searchable data elements:
    • Author
    • Title
    • Source
    • Abstract
    • Keywords
    • Subject headings
  • Looking at search results, click on the Check Availability icon to find article availability.
  • Ship Library offers access to numerous research databases. Check our Databases A-Z List and Research Guides!
  • Google Scholar is great for initial "scoping searches" or to supplement searching in subject specific databases. Click the down arrow in the search box for "Advanced Search" options.

More About Search Strategies

When to stop searching?

"Snowballing Technique"

Building your bibliography is like making a snowball, add layers until it is the right size.

How do you know when you have enough?

  • Are you seeing the same articles over and over?
  • You need to "own the literature."

Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy: The Matrix Method.

Computer Search Term Strategies

Search effectively!

Try using a search strategy worksheet to identify key concepts in your topic:

  • Write out a clear, detailed statement of your topic.
  • Identify the concepts embodied in the topic statement.
  • List words which authors would use to describe your topic concepts.
  • Build a search from the concept words.

Use Boolean Operators to relate concept words together

Use these connector words in your search statement:



  • Combines different concepts. 
  • Retrieves bibliographic records containing ALL concept words.


  • Use for concept synonyms.
  • Retrieves all records containing at least one of the concept words.
  • Truncation is a special case -- use * or $ with root word.
  • Look for subject headings for concepts with many synonyms.


  • Eliminates unrelated search concepts when search word has multiple senses.
  • Use with caution!

See this handout for examples of the use of Boolean connectors. 

Grey Literature and Handsearching of Journals

" Grey (the preferred spelling) literature is commonly defined as any documentary material that is not commercially published and is typically composed of technical reports, working papers, and conference proceedings. The greatest challenges...are the process of identification,...Added to this is the absence of editorial control, raising questions about authenticity and reliability. Yet despite these considerations, gray literature is continually referenced in scholarly articles and dissertations and therefore remains an issue "(from third link below).

Analyze Search Results

Learn from your initial search results!

Examine the bibliographic records of relevant articles:

  • Identify additional useful keywords and subject headings.
  • Identify review articles and practice guidelines by limiting.
  • Identify other ways to refine your search such as limiting by age group.

This helpful handout can help YOU do precise, targeted, and comprehensive searches!
From Richard Jizba at Creighton University Health Sciences Library.

Works Cited, References, Bibliographies, and Cited Reference Searching

Examine the references in relevant articles:

  • Identify more articles for your literature review.
  • Use the Journal Finder to find article availability.


Do a Cited Reference Search of a significant article:


  • Who has that article in their bibliography?

Use the databases listed below to do a cited reference search:


Automatic Updating

Automatically updating your seaching can be facilitated by using techniques like these:

RSS and alerts info from MIT  From the MIT site:

"  RSS feeds and email alerts can help you find out about new literature in your field, such as:

  • table of contents from new issues of your favorite journal
  • new articles on your specific research topic
  • new books in your field in the MIT Libraries
  • new patents in specific technology areas of interest to you
  • news in science, technology, business, health, etc. from Google, New York Times, BBC, etc. "

EBSCO Alerts. From EBSCO:   "Search Alerts save valuable research time, and can be set up to provide automatic e-mail notification whenever new search results become available. You can also retrieve those alerts to perform the search immediately, instead of waiting for the alert to run."