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ACAP Library Pathfinder: Literature Review

Learn about the process of searching, choosing, recording and evaluating information for writing a literature review.

Where to Search

Whenever possible, source literature for your review from multiple sources. If you are writing a review with a limited word count and a fast-approaching due date, it may be okay to limit your search strategy to a few of the major library databases.  However, more in-depth papers should draw from a wide variety of sources, ensuring that a thorough search of the literature has been conducted. 

The Choosing Resources page on the Information Skills guide will provide you with more information about where to access information sources.  You can also follow these links:

Developing a Search Strategy

Employ a systematic approach to your search by formulating a number of advanced searches and deploying each from multiple sources. One strategy is to copy and paste the same search into numerous sources, which have been opened in multiple tabs across the top of your internet browser. Take a look at the Advanced Searching tabs below and for an even more in-depth look, follow the relevant links at the bottom of this page. 

Note that the first search you run probably won't be the final one. You will have several iterations along the way to finding a set of final tested search strings. As you pick up new key terms and phrases by reading through the material you find, often a new set of criteria will emerge with which to search the literature. Also, do not forget to employ citation chaining strategies once you have found relevant sources. 

Record each search as you go using the template, which is located on the following page titled, Recording the Search. This template will help you write this section of the literature review and help you keep track of your search sets as they develop.

It is also important to stay organised. There are various methods of saving and organising your searches and the literature you find. They are listed on the Reference Management page in this guide

Advanced Searching

The search boxes allow you to construct a more focused search and adjust it more easily.

Use one box for each of the main topic areas you are looking for. In the example below, the search topics are grief and relationships and interventions. Use three boxes, one for each topic and include synonyms for each topic in that box. If you want to include more topics in your search, most databases will allow you to add boxes.

Between each search box you are able to choose the appropriate Boolean operator to connect your search terms.

In the search below, the AND operator is selected in the drop-down menus and OR operators are typed in the search boxes between synonyms. You can also refine your search string at this stage by adding wildcards, truncation and phrases. For example, you could truncate bereavement and counselling and therapy.

You are able to use the ‘Select a field’ drop down menus to tell the database where to look for search terms.

You might have to adjust these fields if you’ve limited the search too much. You might also try mixing and matching across the search boxes as some fields will work better with different keywords. Below is a brief definition of some of the common fields you can choose from:

  • Select a Field or Any Field - Will look through all sections of item records for your keywords. This will deliver a larger, more comprehensive set of results.
  • All Text - Will look through the entire full-text of the items. This will deliver the largest set of results but they may not always be the most relevant.
  • Author - Use when you want to search for a particular author or theorist. Begin by just using the author's surname.
  • Title - Will just search through the titles of the items in the database. This will give you a much smaller and relevant set of results.
  • Subject terms - Will look through the subject tags attached to each record. Again, this will give you a smaller more relevant list of results.
  • Abstract - When looking for journal articles, limiting to an abstract search will often give you a relevant, yet comprehensive search. The abstract is the summary you find at the beginning of a research article.


After you hit the search button and retrieve your results list, you will also see a Refine Results menu, usually down the left or right hand side of the page. This menu allows you to use the built in facets of the database to easily refine the results and deliver a more relevant list. A few ways of limiting the search include:

  • Full-text: Ticking the full-text option filters your search to resources subscribed to by the library and so, you will have immediate access. However, you can choose to expand the number of results by unticking this option. Note, you may then need to look for non-subscription items elsewhere or request via the interlibrary loan service. 
  • Peer Review: If you are unsure about assessing scholarly material, you can limit the results to just peer reviewed studies.
  • Date: You may also just want to look at recent research and publications. To do this, limit by date from the Publication Date field.
  • Facets: And you can make use of the limiting facets produced by the database. These are based on the metadata from your results list. Subject or Thesaurus terms are often a good place to start in order to make your results a little more relevant but there is often a variety of other options to choose from such as methodology, gender, age, geography, publication type and so on.