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Literature Reviews

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Some of this material is out of date! We are working to update it. In the meantime, check out these other resources if something doesn't seem right.


There are many strategies to make sure you have conducted an exhaustive review of the literature. Below are explanations for common search strategies. Click on each tab and try them all!

Database Searching Strategies

Databases find articles based on the search terms you enter by applying boolean logic. In the simplest terms, boolean logic, looks for each of your terms:



Identifying Keywords from a Sample Research Question:

Developing a model of academic student support services for programs for higher education.

Perform an initial search in a Phillips Library database (ProQuest is used in these examples):


In this example there are too many results. You can either be more specific with your search terms or add additional search terms to narrow down your results. In this case, change "support services" to "academic support services" as that is a more specific representation of what the research question is.


Identifying Keywords from a Sample Research Question:

Implementing a pilot program to maintain quality patient care and employee satisfaction while minimizing over-staffing on low census days.


Perform an initial search in a Phillips Library database (EBSCO is used in these examples):

You can use all or just some of your keywords. In this example shows an initial searching using only the phrase low census staffing.



Brainstorm Related Keywords:

Scanning your results, you can begin to gather additional keywords and revise your search such as personnel staffing and scheduling methods from the example above. You can replicate this for each of the keywords you are searching. This will ensure you have the largest range of resources available to include in your literature review.

Identifying Subject Terms from a Sample Research Question:

Evaluating the effectiveness of an art therapy program for veterans suffering from PTSD.

Perform an initial search in a Phillips Library database (EBSCO is used in this example):


Review the subject terms provided. These are controlled vocabulary terms that are assigned to each article. Once you locate subject terms that relate to your topic you can search by subject as shown in the example below:

For each article you find that is related to your research, scan either the literature review or the references for leads on new sources. You can use Journal tab on the tabbed search box to search for journals, and find an article using a reference's citation information.

Identify other research from the literature review or references of articles you have found (and that are relevant to your topic):

Through your research you will begin to recognize the names of journals where you find relevant and interesting articles. You can always electronically "browse" the back issues of those journals through the Phillips Library database subscriptions.

Identify Relevant Journals (Sample Research Question):

Exploring the relationship between early interventions and reading comprehension skills in children with autism spectrum disorders.


After some initial searching, perhaps you notice several articles from Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Scan Relevant Journals for Additional Research:

From the Phillips Library homepage click "Find Articles"

Click the link "Search for SPECIFIC ARTICLE by PERIODICAL (JOURNAL) title" and enter the name of the journal you are interested in. In this example we enter Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

You will be directed to a list of databases where the journal is available, pay close attention to the dates of coverage. Click a database to see the dates available. You can browse by issue to see everything published in that specific journal.

Finding Peer Reviewed Articles

Scholarly or academic articles are peer-reviewed.

Peer-reviewed articles have gone through a rigorous screening and editing process that confirms the research meets certain standards.

You can find peer-reviewed articles in library databases in a number of ways, depending on the place you are searching. Look for the option to check a box before or after searching to filter to only peer-reviewed sources. 

Showing Peer-reviewed filter option in Spartan SearchPeer reviewed check box beneath ProQuest database search boxesPeer reviewed check box in EBSCO search results

When you are looking at an article in Spartan Search, the library's system to search across all databases, you will see a badge identifying the article if it is from a peer-reviewed journal. In other search results you can check if an article is peer reviewed by looking in the article's details or clicking on the journal title to learn more.

Spartan Search result. Says Peer Reviewed under article details.

If you aren't sure whether an article is peer reviewed, you can:

  • look up the journal information
  • find it in Spartan Search
  • ask a librarian

Note: Not every article published in a peer-reviewed journal will be a scholarly article. It could be a review of a book, an informational article, or something else entirely. Learn more about how to identify a scholarly article.