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How to undertake a literature search: a step-by-step guide

09 April 2020
10 min read
Volume 29 · Issue 7


Undertaking a literature search can be a daunting prospect. Breaking the exercise down into smaller steps will make the process more manageable. This article suggests 10 steps that will help readers complete this task, from identifying key concepts to choosing databases for the search and saving the results and search strategy. It discusses each of the steps in a little more detail, with examples and suggestions on where to get help. This structured approach will help readers obtain a more focused set of results and, ultimately, save time and effort.

The first time you undertake a literature search, whether for an assignment, a dissertation, an interview or to help you care for a patient, the task can appear a little daunting. The key is to break the process down into smaller steps and think carefully about each step in advance.

There are 10 steps in the search process:

First, write out your title and check that you understand all the terms. Look up the meaning of any you do not understand. An online dictionary or medical encyclopaedia may help with this. If your search is for a dissertation, you may need to choose your own research question. In this case, you will need to consider whether there is likely to be enough research on your topic. On the other hand, if your topic is too broad, you may be overwhelmed by the number of references and will need to make your topic more specific.

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