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Literature Reviewing

Search Plan

The photo depicts four figurines holding letters that, when arranged together, form the word "PLAN."






This search plan is likely to underpin most of the research to follow,  so it is worth spending a significant amount of time on  preparing a detailed search plan.  It can also become the basis for writing up your literature review methodology. This is often asked for by many journals when submitting papers, especially in the health field.

Use this search plan template as a starter for your own systematic search.


Search Strategies - effective database searching

Searching of academic databases can be improved by learning a few important search techniques. The most important one is boolean searching.This will allow you to narrow or broaden your searches. Correct use of the Boolean operators  AND / OR /NOT along with building a well planned search will improve the recall (ability to identify all relevant articles) and the  precision (ability to exclude irrelevant articles) of your search.

Watch the video to see how to apply Boolean operators in your academic database search.



Each academic database has its own controlled, structured search language. This is often called a thesaurus, subject headings, or index.

When papers are added to a database, the indexer applies a number of subject headings to each paper to improve retrieval. Using these headings when searching can vastly improve the precision and context of the search results.  eg searching for the keywords "aids" might locate mobility aids, physical aids, walking aids, as well as acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Searching using the database subject heading Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome instead of the keywords "aids" will remove the irrelevant maerials and retrieve items on that condition alone.


Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
    • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
  • Examples:
  • nurs* = nurse, nurses, nursing, nursed
  • child* = child,  children, children's, childhood
    genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
    • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #


Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.

  • This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.
  • Examples:
    wom!n = woman, women
    colo?r = color, colour
  • Wildcard symbols may vary by database. Check out the database help.

Here is a sample search run within the database British Education Index on the topic : Use and Effectiveness of online peer feedback in UK higher education"

Note the use of a mixture of keyword and phrases, truncated keywords and Descriptors  ("DE"  - the subject headings in this particular database).  Also note the grouping together of the three main concepts within the search  - peer feedback, online learning & teaching and higher education. 

Sources to Search

Picture of stacked books and a computer mouse.Decide on sources to search.The sources searched may include the same ones you used in your initial scoping search, but the search in these is likely to be more extensive, systematic and rigorous than the scoping search.You may also need to use resources outside those of your own institution, eg access the inter library loan system to obtain research articles from journals not subscribed to locally, or use other UK university libraries via the SCONUL Access Scheme.

Information Sources
Library Homepage & guides LibrarySearch  Library Subject Guides  Databases  My Subject Librarian
Internet Google Scholar   Google   Social media  (blogs   Twitter  Facebook)
Databases Systematic search of high profile databases within your field. Search the  database list by subject and see your librarian's subject guide
Theses Finding theses
External Sources

Library Hub Discover    British Library    Worldcat    

 Other Libraries & Bookshops     SCONUL Access



About Google Scholar

Google Scholar indexes the content from a range of academic sources, from peer-reviewed journals, to books and reports. It’s easy to search and can help you to find a great deal of information.

However, you will find that it does not cover all of the published sources in your area. Not all publishers of academic information allow Google to index their information. Google Scholar doesn’t replace the academic databases you can search individually or via LibrarySearch, but it can complement them.

You may suffer from large numbers of results or struggle to narrow your search. Knowing some simple search tips will bring you back better, more focused results. Google have some useful search tips.

Another source of frustration can be endless dead end links, you are either denied access or asked to pay money to read an article (this is especially true if you are using a computer off campus).

In your Google Scholar settings, make sure Edinburgh Napier University is selected in the Library Links – it is a simple process. When looking at your results list, you will now be able to easily see which publications the library subscribes to. You may need to use your Edinburgh Napier login to access the full text.

You can export citations you find within Google Scholar to bibliography tools such as Endnote. Underneath a search result, click on ‘cite’ to access all the options.

You can also set up Google Scholar alerts to let you know if new articles on your topic are published or if a specific article is cited.