Overview of the literature search process

Flow diagram of literature review processFinding and using information is a key skill that you can use and develop throughout your life. A lot of the skills you develop during your time at University will add to your employability. This video highlights what skills employers are looking for, including the ability to find and communicate information: Employability Skills video When you have a topic or question you need to research it is worthwhile spending a few minutes thinking about what you want.  First, break down your question into keywords and think about the type of information required; do you need key concepts, research, statistics, facts, theories or illustrations? This will help to point you in the direction of where you need to search.

Here are some useful questions to consider:

  • What is my question?
  • What are the keywords?
  • Are there any other keywords I might use?
  • What type of information do I need?

You will need to stop and review your results regularly and based on them you may need to refine or adapt your search strategy. This video may help you to think about how you can explore your keywords: Keywords for searching video

Depending on your assignment – you may need a specific type of information (for example an opinion piece or a piece of research). More information is available under ‘Types of information’. This will determine where you need to search for the information.


You may also want to consider how to limit the amount of information that you want to find.  Does it matter where the information comes from or how old it is?  Below are some questions you may find useful to help guide your searching:

  • Language – Do you need English literature/research?
  • Geography – What country does the information refer to?
  • Type of publication – Is it at the right level (Practitioner/Academic)?
  • Date – How old is it?

Refine your search (Boolean Operators)          

When you start your search, start simply: perform a basic search for one of your keywords e.g. Wellbeing. Then you may need to add other keywords to refine (narrow) your search to the relevant articles. You can do this by using AND, OR and NOT.

Venn diagram ANDIf you search for:

wellbeing AND aging

the database will only bring you results that deal with both of these keywords (narrowing your search)


Boolean ORwellbeing OR well being

will broaden your search as it will bring you any results that use either of these terms



Boolean NOTChild NOT Adult

This will narrow down your results and exclude things that you do not want, in this example any articles that relate to children.

You can use these hints and tips to search any database or search engine. You can also find really useful tips on the databases themselves under their ‘Help’ option.