Managing your literature search

When you are searching for literature over a period of time, it is important to find a way to manage and record your results. Here are some ideas that you may find useful. You may need to try a couple and use whatever methods work best for you and your learning style.

Recording your search

Think about what you need to record from your search so that you do not Photo of an open book with a page of notes alongsiderepeat yourself and you can build on what you have done before. Some of the things you need to consider are:

  • The database you have used
  • what references you have collected
  • what keywords and subject headings you have used
  • did you use any limits in your search, for example a date range
  • If there are any key authors
  • any further resources you would like to explore further.

Example table of a literature search record, including database, keywords and number of results

Example of a table showing a literature search record


You may wish to write it in a note book, or on your laptop or phone. Here is an example of how you can collect the information in a table, click on the image for a full size view.

In this example, the number of results are listed from the initial search results as well as the results after additional limits were added. For example, 1,283 results for an initial search, were narrowed down to 383 by limiting to original research from the last 10 years and then narrowed down further to 80, by limiting to a five year range. The authors and year of any references that were taken from the search are also listed, so you can identify what search yielded the results.

Managing your results

You may also want to have an overview of your key papers. In the example below I have included the citation for each article that could also be used as a file name with a keyword for the PDF document e.g. Young2010RLSystem. This makes it easier to find on your computer, rather than a random file name generated when you download a journal article. A summary and topics are also included to identify key themes in the literature and direct you to relevant resources. It also includes a column for relevancy which has been used to identify how the papers can be used. This example is non-subject specific so that you can see how a summary helps you understand the article.


Example of a source summary table

Remember, think about the best option for you, you do not have to follow this if it does not suit how you work. However, it is strongly recommended that you find some way of recording your literature search as you may need to demonstrate how you found your results. The benefit of recording your search and an overview of your key articles is that you know exactly what you have and can access them.