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RES 7111 Research Design: Planning your Search

First Steps

  • Define your search topic and outline the concepts, keywords or synonyms.
  • Consider using a:
    • Concept Map
    • Venn Diagram
    • Research Strategy Worksheet
    • Database Search Log
  • Determine the type of information needed.  Current?  Scholarly?  Seminal/Classic?  Qualitative?  Quantitative? ...
  • Identify keywords, subject terms (synonyms, alternate terms). Make a list!
  • Select a database
  • Construct an Advanced Search using concepts/keywords/synonyms and the type of information you want. 
  • Edit and refine your search... repeat the process.

Remember: Remember library research is iterative and can be non-linear. 

A comprehensive literature review includes searching for resources in multiple journal databases, books (library catalog, ebooks), dissertation databases, and other sources.

Read article records and abstracts -  find keywords, subject terms, and discipline specific jargon that authors and scholars are using in  their works.

Check the THESAURUS or Subject Terms links in each database to find appropriate search terms. You will also find broader, narrower, and related search terms.

Notice works that come up frequently in your searches. Add these terms to your search logs. You will conduct separate searches using as many alternative words as possible. Document your searches (what terms you used, databases, results). This will ensure that you have conducted a thorough review of the literature.

Staying organized

Useful strategies can include:

  • Starting with a concept map or Venn Diagram to visually explore topic.
  • Use a research strategy worksheet to explore terms and strategies.
  • Keeping track of what you have searched and in what databases/resources:
    • Create a RefWorks account or similar citation management software to capture citations, pdfs, create bibliographies and more
    • Create a database research log -- use Word or similar. 
      • It is useful to note:  database/search engine used, terms searched, etc.

Check out this article for tips on documenting your search: A structured approach to documenting a search strategy for publication: A 12 step
guideline for authors


Examining what you've found:

  • Is the title scholarly?
    • Within the database search, choose the limiter for Scholarly/Peer-reviewed.  or
    • When looking at a citation within a database, click the journal title until you reach the Publication Details.  Look for the "Peer reviewed" field. 
  • Review the item's bibliography/"cite by" links for additional leads - this is called citation chaining.
    • The reference list/bibliography leads back in time to related works.  Use Discovery to search reference entries by book or journal title.
    • Use Google Scholar to move forward in time to see who has cited the article you have.  Cited By in Google Scholar; Times Cited in  Ebsco Databases.
    • Find formative research on your topic and see how the research has evolved.
  • What other disciplines are interested in your topic?  Don't just stick with one database.  You may need to tweak your terms.  A word can have a different meaning in another discipline. 
  • Find the gaps: search "future research" or "further research needed"...see where the gaps might be indicated. It is worth a shot.

Is your literature review comprehensive?

Have you...

  1. Found all alternative terms?
  2. Searched all appropriate resources/databases relevant to your topic (databases/dissertations/books/government documents)?
  3. Traced key articles backwards and forwards in time?
  4. Found the gaps in the research? Or areas for future study?