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Literature search

A literature search involves a systematic exploration of relevant literature on a particular topic. To conduct a comprehensive literature search, it is necessary to:

  • define what topic you are searching for
  • decide where to look
  • develop and refine your search strategy
  • save your search for future use

Define your search question

You should begin by selecting a search topic. This involves identifying a wide subject matter, narrowing it down to determine the specific aspect of the topic that interests you, and rephrasing that topic into a question.

After identifying the main idea, you should search for relevant keywords and phrases to express different concepts.

Creating a concept map involves identifying main concepts and organizing key terms to clarify the question.

Develop a clear strategy by deciding where to look

Searching online databases is the most efficient way to find scientific articles, monographs, conference proceedings, financial and statistical data, and reports.

Additionally, databases provide the option to conduct citation searches in addition to literature searches.
This serves as a valuable supplement to literature searches.

To effectively retrieve information, one needs to have a search strategy in place. This involves formulating search instructions and determining the order of searches in a way that helps identify the maximum number of documents that can answer the user's question. A search strategy combines the key terms of a search question to produce accurate results.

Your search strategy should include:

  • all possible search terms
  • keywords, phrases
  • their variations

Since every database functions differently, it's crucial to devise a customized search strategy for each one.
If your research encompasses multiple domains, you may want to create separate search strategies for each area. It's recommended that you test your strategies and make adjustments based on your search results.

Search techniques:

A) Selection of search terms

When expressing ideas or concepts, there are several ways to do it. Your objective is to examine each concept and create a list of various ways it can be expressed. To discover different keywords or phrases for your concepts, follow these steps:

  • use a thesaurus to identify synonyms
  • look up your terms in a search engine such as Google Scholar
  • check the abstracts or articles for alternative words, phrases, or expressions

After compiling lists of words and phrases for each term, search through articles and abstracts to discover additional key terms.

B) Using wildcards

Both search terms and keywords can include wildcards such as '*' and '?'.

The '*' character represents zero or more characters.

For instance, if you search for 'run*', the search results will include 'run', 'runs', and 'running'.

The '?' character represents exactly one character.

If you search for 'run?', the search results will include 'runs' and 'rung', but not 'run' or 'running'.

C) Using Boolean operators

Boolean operators such as AND, OR, and NOT can be used to narrow or expand search range, increasing search efficiency.

Here are some important search terms to help you narrow or broaden your search results:

  • innovation AND "database": This search will return topics that contain both the term "innovation" and the exact phrase "database" anywhere in the document.
  • innovation OR "database": This search will broaden the results to topics that contain either the term "innovation" or the exact phrase "database" anywhere in the document.
  • innovation NOT "database": This search will return topics that contain the term "innovation" anywhere in the document, while excluding any document containing the exact phrase "database".
  • innovation OR "development" NOT "database": This search will return documents that contain either the term "innovation" or the exact phrase "development" anywhere in the document, while excluding any document containing the exact phrase "database".

D) Clarify your search

When conducting a search, a significant number of results may be returned. While this could be acceptable for a systematic literature review, irrelevant results can be frustrating. To make the search more effective, there are techniques that can be employed.

Here are some tips to narrow down or broaden your search:

  • Databases usually do not come with an autocorrect feature, which means that they will only show you the exact words you type in. Therefore, it's important to double-check your spelling.
  • If your search results are too narrow, try using a broader search question to get more results.
  • If you are not finding enough relevant information, consider searching additional databases.
  • Try using alternative search terms and spelling variations to capture a wider range of results.
  • It's always helpful to discuss your research topic with your supervisor to get more guidance and support.

If you are faced with an overwhelming number of search results, consider the following steps to refine your search:

  • Double check if you have used Boolean operators correctly. For instance, are you using 'AND' when you should be using 'OR'?
  • Apply filters based on publication date, language, or type of publication.
  • Further narrow down your search by using more specific keywords.

E) A systematic literature review

A systematic literature review is a comprehensive study that aims to identify, select, and synthesize all studies published on a specific question or topic. The review follows a rigorous scientific design based on predetermined and repeatable methods.

It provides information on current knowledge and research gaps.

  1. The first step to preparing a review is formulating its research question.
  2. Creating a report is the next crucial step to undertake after deciding to carry out a literature review. The report acts as a detailed plan for the review process and is created at the outset of the project. It is then revised and modified at later stages. Preparing the report is an essential aspect of the review process. It includes defining the theoretical basis, formulating the review question, developing a literature search strategy, establishing criteria and procedures for selecting relevant studies, creating checklists for assessing the quality and methods of the study, determining a data extraction strategy, synthesizing the extracted research results, and setting a timeline.
  3. First, a research topic is selected, and a set of publications is analyzed. Sampling is a multi-step process that requires proper database extraction and keyword identification.

It is crucial to document the methodology you used to search for information and the number of results you found. It's important to keep track of your search activities as it becomes hard to justify the decisions you made and remember the information you found in each source after the event.

In order to create systematic research reviews, the following steps can be taken:

  • formulation of the research question;
  • drafting the protocol/report;
  • literature search, organizing data and selecting items;
  • data analysis;
  • interpretation of results and conclusions;
  • publication and dissemination.

F) Save your search

Save useful records and search strategy to avoid repetition.

A bibliography manager

A variety of citation styles are used in different disciplines for creating footnotes and bibliographies. To ensure consistency in the creation of footnotes and bibliographies, it is advisable to rely on online indexing services. Additionally, make use of appropriately formatted links to bibliographic descriptions that can be easily downloaded and applied to your publications. This helps in maintaining accuracy and saves time in the long run. Bibliography and footnote management programs can help you create a bibliographic database and use it to manage information when writing papers.

Three popular free bibliography managers are Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote Basic which is available for free as part of a subscription to Clarivate Analytics products.


Mendeley is a bibliography management software by Elsevier. It simplifies the process of collecting, organizing, citing, and sharing information sources with other researchers.

In its basic version, the program is available for free and provides 2 GB of personal storage, 100 MB of shared space, up to 25 collaborators and up to 5 private groups.

  • Mendeley Desktop is a powerful application that allows users to manage their metadata and read PDFs.
  • Mendeley Web provides researchers with a platform to collaborate and share their work.
  • Additionally, Mendeley offers add-ons for popular browsers (Web importer) and word processors (Citation plugin) to make the reference management process even more seamless.

The program enables you to download and gather information from databases and the internet. It also facilitates automatic generation of a document database from a specified disk catalog and allows manual entry of records. The program works seamlessly with text editors to automatically add footnotes and provides the option to choose from a variety of bibliographic styles, including Polish. Additionally, the program allows you to collaborate with others, sharing the collected descriptions, and working together in groups.

Useful information and tutorials


EndNote Basic

EndNote Basic is a free tool that comes with the Web of Science database. It allows you to search through various databases and library catalogs. You can transfer bibliographic descriptions to folders, or groups, that you create within the program. You can do this by manually typing the descriptions, directly importing them from browsed databases and/or your computer's disk (from text files with a .txt extension), or automatically creating footnotes and appendix bibliographies (you'll need to download the Cite While You Write extension - which can be found in Downloads). Additionally, you can share your bibliographic data with others.

The application is connected to Web of Science and the Researcher ID social network for scientists.

Useful information:


Zotero is a free and user-friendly application for managing bibliographic metadata of various publication types including books, articles, reports, and websites.

This program lets you create document collections and groups, retrieve bibliographic data, and customize footnote style. Compatible with Microsoft Word and LibreOffice, it's available in web and desktop versions, and also in Polish.

The Save to Zotero browser extension allows for easy download of bibliographic information from webpages. Additionally, the extension provides a word processor tab for formatting and editing bibliographic descriptions and citations.

Allows synchronization with a description database from another bibliography manager like Mendeley.

Useful information:

Citation Style Language

Citation Style Language (CSL) is an open language based on XML that defines the layout of citations and bibliographies.

Paper Machines

Paper Machines is an open-source extension for managing bibliographies that allows researchers to analyze and visualize user-provided text without requiring significant computational resources or technical expertise.

How and where to publish

Publishing a scientific article requires finding the most suitable journal. To achieve this, it is essential to gather information about publishing a paper and selecting a journal that aligns with your research. The Open Science website offers valuable insights on choosing the right journal, and you can find more information in the Open Access Publishing section.