Home » Help Guides » Literature Searching

Literature Searching

This tutorial is designed to help students plan, complete, and organize a literature search for a literature review.

Let’s start with some definitions:

“the literature”: all the scholarly writing about a topic

literature search (definition): a well thought out and organized search for all of the books, articles, dissertations, and other authoritative sources  published on a topic.

Literature review (definition): synthesizing sources from the literature search, usually in writing.

Goals of Literature Reviews

  • Giving an overview of the current state of the literature
  • find a gap in the research literature, or address a business or professional issue
  • provide a synthesis of the issues, trends, and concepts surrounding your research topic

The three short videos below summarize the process. 

Types of Literature Reviews

Narrative: giving an overview of the current state of the literature. Limited by a number of sources. (ex. 5 sources OR 5-10 articles)

Systematic: Comprehensive overview of all published and unpublished research on the topic, usually limited by a specific time frame (ex. 10 years) rather than number of sources.

Two subtypes of Systematic Reviews:

    • Meta-analysis: Uses statistical analysis to combine the data from different studies
    • Meta-synthesis: Uses non-statistical methods to compare research studies by theme or theory

Source: U of Toledo Guide

Types of Sources Used

Your literature search should include:

  • Foundational literature/Seminal Research: theorist(s) that developed or first wrote about a topic

  • Original Scholarly research from a set time period (last 5 years or 10 years typical)
    • usually original research articles or literature reviews
    • Can be unpublished conference presentations or dissertations

Where do I find Foundational Research?

  • Look for books or older articles mentioned by current research in the introduction of research articles.
  • Look in encyclopedia articles for a history of the topic.

Where do I find current Scholarly research?

Search Techniques

If you are not familiar with basic search techniques with keywords start here:

Citation Chaining

Once you find 1 or 2 good articles, use them to find more sources. Remember, relevant sources can come before (references) or after (citing this) the article, and many databases have built in tools to help.  

Citation chaining (definition): using references from found sources to find additional sources.

Recommended: Walden University Guide

Links to citation in Google Scholar and Databases

Citation Chaining with Primo & Databases

Citation Chaining with Google Scholar

Organizing Your Search

Why should you document of your searches?

  • Avoid repeating ineffective searches or search terms (save time)
  • Provide you a concise overview of your sources, and help you group themes and ideas.
  • You might need to explain to your readers how you conducted your research.
    • Why? This explanation helps other researchers continue your search.


Saved items and saved searches are two options in Primo. Watch these short video clips to learn more.

Save items & Organize Saved Items

Export multiple items & save searches


Citation Managers

Citation managers are software students can use to help them organize their sources and create citations. Watch this video clip for more features.

Zotero Help Guides

There are few choice available, but we recommend Zotero because it’s most compatible with Primo. It’s free and easy to set up.

Zotero Getting Started
Zotero Citations & Bibliographies

Database Provider Accounts

Database providers like Ebscohost and ProQuest provide free accounts with additional saving options which might be helpful if you primarily use Ebsco or ProQuest databases. 

My Research from ProQuest
My Ebscohost Account

Organizing Your Sources

However you choose to organize your resources, be sure to track any information needed for citations. For example, if you use a book chapter be sure to keep track of the book information as well.

There are many different ways to keep your sources and notes organized:

  • Print paper copies and keep them in a file folder
  • Download articles and scanned items into a folder on your computer
  • Email sources to yourself, and save in a separate folder.
  • Upload digital copies to a folder in a cloud-based or Internet-based tool like Evernote, Google Drive, DropBox or One Drive

Tip: Use a uniform format for naming digital files (for ex): Smith and Jones 2017

Citation Managers

Citation managers like Zotero often allow users to upload a limited number of pdf copies of their resources. Additional space may be available for a fee.

Attaching Files in Zotero

Getting Help at the Library

Librarians can help students during any part of the literature searching process:

  • Planning or searching for sources
  • setting up and using Zotero
  • Finding difficult citations from references

Contact Librarians via Ask a Librarian, phone, in-person, or online chat.

Send research consultation requests via the email form: Ask a Librarian

Was this page helpful?