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Literature Reviews in the Social Sciences: Search tips

A guide on conducting & writing literature reviews for students in the Social Sciences.

Searching fundamentals

What you need to know:

  • the basic vocabulary surrounding your topic (including any subject-specific jargon, synonyms, alternative phrases, etc.)
  • the difference between keyword and subject searching
  • how to use Boolean operators
  • how to use truncation
  • the different ways of sorting and limiting your results

What you will learn & need to take note of in the course of searching:

  • the best subject headings/keywords
  • prominent authors
  • prominent journals
  • trends

Try to avoid:  

  • spending too much time on the 'newest' articles--a lot of databases put the newest articles first.  Don't forget the older stuff, it can be very relevant and influential!
  • getting sidetracked into articles that are only tangentially related to your field of study.  

What to do when you find the 'perfect' article

Jump for joy!  And then...

  • Find the subject headings--you can use these in new keyword or subject heading searches to find similar articles
  • Check the bibliography--see what sources they used, and then go find them yourself using either the catalog (for books & book chapters) or the Journals page (search for the journal titles to see if we have access)
  • Find the article in Web of Science, and look to see who has cited that article--this might give you ideas for how the article can be interpreted, and also an idea of its' influence (just don't expect a lot of citations for new articles).  You can do this in Google Scholar, too.