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Literature Reviewing

5 Top tips

  1. Carry out an initial scoping search - gain an overview of the range/ depth of research that already exists within your  field.
  2. Use the scoping search to gather information on useful sources and researchers in your field.

  3. Evaluate your scoping search – it becomes the basis of the comprehensive literature review to follow.

  4. Use human sources – go talk to your supervisors and fellow researchers They are great sources of advice & experience.

  5. Outcome of your scoping search ? -  a clearer, more refined, if not yet final, research question.


Scoping Searches - Further information

Information Sources

Keen to get into your research as soon as possible?  Try these initial sources for information searching:

Source Reason to Use

Research based sources 

peer reviewed journals, review articles, books,free web sources, theses.

To give an overview of the whole field.

To  identify main themes and debates

To read the lit reviews in existing papers & theses

Your research community

supervisors, well known field experts,fellow researchers, online discussion groups

Access your supervisor’s existing knowledge, sources & contacts

Build a network of other researchers working in your area

Stay up to date via identified online discussion groups

Your subject librarian

expertise in identifying and using major sources required for literature scoping & reviewing

Assist with more detailed literature searches.

Advise on structuring your follow-up comprehensive literature search, eg  identifying sources,  building systematic search strategies & document searches.

Advise on filtering & tailoring of results and identification of key papers, authors and journals; pearl citation searching; accessing materials via  inter library loan.

Provide advice on reference management and data management.

Provide assistance with publishing research  eg open access publishing, copyright and measuring impact.


Initial Scoping Search

Do a basic search plan 

Prepare a list of initial keywords and search terms from your research proposal.

Use a search plan template


  • Anyone else working in the same area? 

  •  Key authors and/or journals?

  • Can you identify a wider set of suitable keywords & search terms for your follow-up, comprehensive literature search?

  • Identify gaps in existing research and focus your own research question further.

  • Do you need to narrow the scope of your own research or set other limits upon it?

  • Are you re-inventing the wheel?

  • If you carry out this research – so what?   What impact will it have on society?

  • Put pen to paper. Summarise your findings – key papers , authors & journals identified so far . Be prepared to talk them over with your supervisor or Principal Investigator.

  • From this discussion a more specific research question for your project can be identified and agreed, based on what is already known.

  • Consider the methodologies and theoretical frameworks used in the papers you have identified. Do you need to learn more about these techniques? Explore LibrarySearch and Sage Research Methods Online for books, papers and case studies on these.

  • Evaluate your initial scoping search- can you identify a wider range of more relevant keywords and search terms? Do you need to narrow your search using various parameters eg date, language, geography? Have you identified key authors or journals – do you need to set up electronic feeds or register for table of contents for these journals in order to follow these sources and/or link to individual author’s blogs or online profiles?

  • A comprehensive systematic literature search focused on your identified topic can now be undertaken by you as the base line for your future project.
  • Contact your subject librarian at this point for advice on how to search the literature systematically using appropriate subject specific research databases – learn how to focus searches using database subject headings/thesauri, use Boolean logic and truncation, use search limiters effectively.
  •  Get advice on ways to manage your references/PDFs for the duration of your project.

Your information need

Picture of a landscape with a bridgeWant to become an expert in your chosen research field? You start as a novice in the topic and possibly as a novice with regards to your information skills too. Move from a broad understanding of your research area to finding more specific research based information to support your research topic, finally, moving on to sources, people and places which assist you in staying  up to date within your field. Use this page to get  an initial "feel " for your topic.