Literature Searching

Overview and tips on how to conduct a literature search.


Why Do A Literature Search

Literature searching is a critical component for any research project.  It is the part of the project where you perform a thoroughly thought-out and well-organized search in the available research literature, usually conducted in a bibliographic database, to identify the depth and breadth of good quality articles and other publications on a specific topic.  Literature searching is an iterative process, where you would repeat the process a number of times to ensure that you have found, to the best of your ability, as many relevant references on your topic as possible.

The reasons for conducting a literature search are numerous and include, but are not limited to:

  • short fact-finding forays, to acquire background information on a topic,
  • getting insight into the scope and breath of the literature on a particular topic,
  • determining whether or not; or to what extent, research on a topic has already been done - --
  • to the immensely comprehensive and lengthy evidence synthesis (, such as systematic reviews.

The ultimate goal of a literature search is to gain knowledge. 

In addition, a literature search helps:

  • to clarify or refine the research problem or question under consideration,
  • checks to see if similar research has already been done on the topic,
  • verifies that this is an important problem or question which needs answering or more research,
  • highlights or fills in gaps of existing knowledge or research,
  • helps to find measurement instruments, research methods or techniques,
  • reveals/uncovers/discloses terminology related to the field/topic and,
  • identifies researchers with similar interests.


References/Additional Resources

Brettle A., Gambling, T. (2003). Needle in a haystack? Effective literature searching for research. Radiography, 9(3), 229–236.

vom Brocke, J., Simons, A., Riemer, K., Niehaves, B., Plattfaut, R. and Cleven, A. (2015) Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Challenges and Recommendations of Literature Search in Information Systems Research. Communications of the Association for Information Systems,  37, Article 9.

Grewal, A., Kataria, H., & Dhawan, I. (2016). Literature search for research planning and identification of research problem. Indian journal of anaesthesia, 60(9), 635–639.

Watson M. (2020). How to undertake a literature search: a step-by-step guide. British journal of nursing (Mark Allen Publishing), 29(7), 431–435.

Last Updated: Feb 7, 2024 1:26 PM