Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Completing A Literature Review

Developing a search strategy

You will need to do some background reading on your topic.  This will allow you to become familiar with the key terms or words that other researchers use when writing about your topic.   Using these words and terms in your searches will help you to find relevant information.

Consider the scope of your search by thinking about the type of assignment that you are being asked to complete. For example, a 1000 word essay will require less material than a 5000 word literature review, so planning your search can really help to focus your search and make doing your assignments less frustrating. 

 

Steps in the searching process:

  • Do some background reading to gain an overview of your topic
  • Identify keywords by mapping your topic, from this, select keywords or create a working title
  • Develop a keyword strategy, include synonyms and alternative keywords. You can use Oxford Dictionaries to help you find synonyms.
  • Think about parameters (date, language, location, etc.) for your search
  • Think about the types of information (books, journals, etc.) you might need and where you are likely to find them
  • Select your information sources (library catalogue, journalsdatabases, search engines). Remember you can use the library Discovery Search to search all the library resources at the same time.
  • Begin to search
  • Evaluate your search strategy, early in the process, and adjust if necessary (Make sure you are using the correct keywords and looking in relevant resources)                                                            
  • Evaluate your results for relevance, accuracy, authority, bias, purpose and currency
  • Keep a record of your search strategy. This ensures consistency with your search because you can use the same keyword strategy across multiple sources 
  • Remember your search strategy should be flexible, you may need to make adjustments, such as adding new keywords, as you go.

 

Identifying keywords and phrases

Once you draft your question or select your topic you should develop your keyword strategy.  This is an important step because databases and search engines use keywords to maximize results.  Remember to use synonyms and alternative keywords to ensure that you capture all the relevant information. 

You can find alternative keywords in:

  • Thesaurus
  • Dictionary
  • Books
  • Journals
  • Databases

Please have a look at this short video for further details.

Below is a worked example of a keyword strategy.

Sample research topic: How to motivate doctoral students in third level education

Keywords: How to motivate doctoral students in third level education

Develop synonyms or alternative keywords:

 

  • Concept A
  • Motivating
  • Motivation
  • Student motivation
  • Motivating students
  • Student engagement
  • Motivation in education
  • Student experience

 

 

  • Concept B
  • Doctoral students
  • Doctoral students
  • Doctoral education
  • Doctoral 
  • PhD / s
  • Doctorate / s
  • Doctoral programs
  • Postgraduate /s
  • Postgraduate students
  • Concept C
  • Third level education
  • Third Level
  • Higher education
  • HE
  • Universities
  • Colleges
  • Institutes of Technology
  • IoTs

 

Searches that use Boolean operators to combine keywords will produce more effective search results than sentences.

AND, OR and NOT are the most popular Boolean operators.  Many databases, including the library Discovery Search, offer drop down menus  with a choice of AND, OR, NOT. 

  • NOT and AND, both narrow your search and will therefore reduce the number of results you retrieve but increase the relevance of the material.
  • OR, will widen the search and should increase the amount of material retrieved. When using "OR", you may need to use brackets around the "OR" terms (see below).

For example the search; motivation AND (academics OR students) will retrieve results that contain information about motivating academics or motivating students. However the search; motivation AND academics OR students won't necessarily combine motivation with student.

Boolean Operators in order of precedence (Usually capitalised if visible on screen):

  • NEAR
  • NEAR/x (x= a certain nuo. of words)
  • SAME
  • NOT
  • AND
  • OR

The Boolean search for "How to motivate doctoral students in third level education" could look like this.


 

 

There are many different types of information resources.  Students and researchers can use a combination of resources when completing assignments or research. Some of the most widely used sources are described below.

  • Textbooks that you find in the library are usually written by experts.  Textbooks are structured for ease of use; they begin with simpler aspects of a topic before progressing towards more complicated aspects. Books often have useful glossaries and an index of subjects and authors.  They also include references and bibliographies, which can help to expand your search.
  • Conference Proceedings can be very important for researchers because often, the first time research is published, is at a conference. Proceedings provide access to specialist and focused information.
  • Databases  are collections, or repositories of high quality journals, magazines, newspapers, eBooks and other academic sources. Some databases will focus directly on your subject, while others cover a wider range of subjects. You can see a full list of the databases available through the library here.
  • Journals are scholarly publications containing articles written by researchers, professors and other experts. Journals focus on a specific discipline or field of study. Unlike newspapers and magazines, journals are intended for an academic or technical audience, not general readers. They are published at regular intervals, such as monthly, bi-monthly or even annually.  This mean that journals can be a good source of up to date information. Some journals are peer reviewed, this means any material published in the journal has undergone an evaluation process to ensure the quality and validity of the information. You can see a full list of the journals available through the library here.
  • Official Publications are published by governments and government departments all over the world.  They can be a useful source of information on areas such as legal, education, finance, science, health and social policies.
  • References Material includes subject directories, almanacs and encyclopedia.  They can provide useful definitions and can be a good sources of primary data (statistics, speeches, diaries). There is no evaluation or interpretation of the material provided, which allows the student or researcher to use the data for their own purpose and to draw their conclusions.
  • Standards are an agreed set of procedures, processes or technical specifications that provide guidance across multiple disciplines and industries.
  • Social media, such as blogs and twitter feeds can highlight key topics and discussions that are current and fast moving. Social media has the potential to help researchers to stay up to date with developments in different disciplines.
  • Theses are final year research projects submitted by students completing degree and doctorate level qualifications. Theses are a valuable information source for researchers as they are highly focused on a particular topic, They will also contain a detailed literature review section, and have references and a bibliography. You can search the TU Dublin institutional repository, Arrow.

Other resources

  • Patents
  • Technical Guidelines
  • Reports
  • Statistics
  • Datasets
  • Newspapers
  • Company Reports

The literature review provides the foundation for your research.  It is important that the information you use as part of your review is of a high standard and accurate. Below is an initial criteria for selecting material. Individual resources will then need to be further analysed and evaluated.

Relevance

  • Is the content relevant to your research or topic?
  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Remember, information that is aimed at the general public can be over simplified and too general for research or academic study.

Quality & Accuracy

  • Is the information accurate?
  • Can you verify the information?
  • Ask yourself;
    • It is referenced appropriately?
    • Is there adequate evidence of claims or conclusions provided?
    • Is the grammar and spelling correct?
    • Is the information clearly presented and well written?
  • If you are looking at a website, does the website work, or are there frequent errors?
  • What does the domain (.co, .edu, .ord, .gov, etc) tell you about the site?

Authority

  • Can you identify the author?
    • Are their credentials detailed?
  • Are they qualified to make the claims or write about the topic?
  • Are contact details included?
  • Who published the information? 
    • What do you know about them?
    • Has this work/author been cited by other researchers?

Currency

  • Is the information current?
  • Can you identify when the information was published?
    • Does the date meet your research parameters?
  • If you are looking at a website, when was it last updated? (usually available at the bottom of the webpage)
    • If there are links to other resources, do they work?

 Purpose

  • Does the information claim to inform, persuade or sell? (trying to persuade or sell a product could imply bias, whereas inform implies a balanced approach)
  • If the information is claiming to be free from bias, are various points of view represented?
  • Is there sponsorship or advertising attached to the source?
 

Phrased searching

The default Boolean term for a database or search engine (unless otherwise stated) is AND.  For example, a search for -information technology- will be interpreted as information AND technology.  However, if you want to search for information on the topic - information technology, put inverted commas around both words, "information technology".  Phrased searching should decrease the number of results you retrieve but increase the relevance of those results.

Wildcard & Truncation

Wildcards (?/#) allow you to search for the American and British spellings of words.  For example, a search for the word behavio?r, will include both behaviour and behavior. You can also use # to include plurals of of words like man or men by using m#n.

Truncation (*) allows you to include variations of a word.  For example, teach*, will include teachers, teacher, teaching and teach.

Subject descriptors/headings

Headings are added by the database administrator and will help you to find more resources on your topic.  Subject headings should be used to in addition to your keyword strategy. Subject headings vary from database to database, so you will need to check the thesaurus or list of subject categories in each databases.
 

Snowballing

Find a key document on your topic. Examine the references and bibliography and use them to find further resources on your topic. Continue this process, working through subsequent papers, until you have the information you require.  This is a fast and effective way of finding relevant information on your topic.  However, you are searching retrospectively so you won't find new or up to date information.

Citation searching

Use an author or article to find relevant, subject specific information within a field. It involves tracing references within an article, and all the articles that have referenced that article.​ This allows you to follow a discussion, to see how an idea or theory has been developed, improved or disproved.  The process can help you to add to your search terms, find  relevant information and develop a bibliography.