A literature search is a planned & organized search for relevant literature on a specific topic. Writing a review of the existing literature on a topic is key part of research conducted in medicine. Literature searches are conducted using databases, library catalogues, & the internet. Literature searching requires time, planning & knowledge of database searching techniques.
Remember that searching:
This guide will provide you with
The process of writing a literature review involves the following steps:
Define your question. Is it Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, & Relevant?
Formulate your search using keywords, thesaurus terms & boolean logic strategy.
Select relevant databases & other internet sources to search
Start your search; keep track of your results from each database.
Evaluate your results & refine your search terms & logic if necessary based on relevancy of results to your question.
Define your search question
Start by Identifying a broad topic & consider whether it is Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, & Relevant.
Turn your topic into a question; a clearly-defined question will:
Formulate your search A concept table may help you gather terms for your search. Use it to:
The PICO method helps you derive an answerable question to focus your search for resources on your topic of interest..
You may also wish to consider different question formulations which may be better suited to your research topic:
For full details, please see
Booth, A. et al. (2019) Formulating questions to explore complex interventions within qualitative evidence synthesis. BMJ Global Health v.4:e001107. Available at: https://gh.bmj.com/content/4/Suppl_1/e001107
The number, type & combination of terms you use in your search will depend on both your question & the objective of your research. A search can not be both specific & sensitive. Your job as a researcher is to find the balance.
A specific search (also called precise or narrow search)
A sensitive search (also called a broad search)
Tips to increase Sensitivity
- instead of CANCER and CHEMOTHERAPY and NAUSEA --> search CHEMOTHERAPY and
- instead of CHEMOTHERAPY and NAUSEA --> search (chemotherapy OR alemtuzumab OR
cisplatin OR Hexalen) AND (nausea OR vomiting OR emesis)
Tips to increase Precision
- instead of TYLENOL and FEVER --> search TYLENOL and FEVER and RANDOMIZED
- instead of CHEMOTHERAPY and NAUSEA --> search ''CHEMOTHERAPY INDUCED NAUSEA AND
Literature searches often produce a large number of citations & require use of several databases.
Good search practice includes keeping a search diary or a document including details of your search strategy to allow others to reproduce your steps & get the same results.
Record your search strategies by logging details on
Download the citations you have retrieved to a reference manager &/or excel spreadsheet to deduplicate citations if necessary.