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Dissertations 3: Literature Reviews: Research

Identify Relevant Work

What an exciting part of your work! Here is where you investigate and learn more about your research topic.

How to proceed:

1. Clarify the topic and delimit the scope

Have clear what the topic of your literature review is. If your review is part of a dissertation, make sure you have identified a viable topic.

Delimit the scope of the review, and be aware of its limitations (e.g. language of the literature; part of the world; type of literature - only scholarly literature, or grey literature too?)

2. Broaden your search, getting an overview of all the issues involved in your topic.  

Use key words to search on search engines. Initially, broaden your search not to overlook relevant results. Follow a couple of techniques to identify useful key words: 

Mind mapping 

Place a blank sheet in landscape position, or use a mind mapping software like Mind View. Write the research topic in the middle. Draw branches from the topic. The branches are possible ideas and topics to include in the literature review. Add sub-topics (“leaves”) and see how ideas connect. Some branches and leaves can be used as key words for your search. 

Mind map

Play with your key words 

Look for synonyms and related terms: 


Topic: “The impact of Covid-19 on the British environment” 

What to search? 

Covid-19 British Environment 

Synonyms and related words: 

Coronavirus; SARS-CoV-2 

Pollution; air quality; waste 

Britain; United Kingdom, UK, England, Scotland, Wales, British Isles, Ireland. 

3. Draw an outline of your literature review

Identify the topics that are most relevant for your literature review, and decide in what order they should be addressed. See also the Structure tab. 

4. Find more literature that addresses the issues identified in the outline. 

Once you have devised the outline, you can focus and search more on the topics included in the outline. 


Control the literature; don't let the literature control you!

The literature review should address the most relevant literature related to your research topic, not everything that is remotely associated with it, or everything you found.

Where to Find Sources

Try different search tools: 

Library search: this will give you only academic, peer-reviewed sources. All these resources are accessible to you online and/or in the library. See the Library Search Guide.

Library subject guides: these provide subject-specific research support, including access to subject-specific books, journals, databases, legal materials, archives etc. They also provide guidance on citing and referencing. Check your Library Subject Guides

Contact your Academic Engagement Librarian: the Academic Engagement Librarian will be able to suggest resources, search tools and research techniques that can help you get a head start on your research. You can find the details of your Librarian here

Internet (for example, Google): will give you the largest number of results, but most of the results will not be peer-reviewed and may not be reliable. You can use it to have a general overview of your research topic. 

Google Scholar: this provides scholarly results as well as technical reports from governments and other organisations, and other academically valuable sources like patents, theses etc. Google Scholar allows the useful feat of forward citation tracking (finding newest sources that cite a given source) that can help you find what other literature comments on a certain source. It has to be noted, however, that not all resources on Google Scholar are peer-reviewed and reliable. See the Google Scholar Guide.