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How to find information for science or health based literature reviews

1 - Where should I begin my search?

One you have chosen your literature review topic, you need to carry out initial searches.

Use Library Search to run an initial search. Type a few keywords into Library Search that relate toyour propsed topic.

Here are two searches - one for honey and one for silver:

  • honey AND wound*
  • silver AND wound*

Use search techniques to make your searches as good as they can be!  Use the * symbol at the end of words that have plurals or alternative word endings:

  • wound* will find wound, wounds, wounding - this technique is called truncation. 

We may decide that truncation adds too many irrelevant items and choose not to use it in additional searches but we only know this if we try the approach.

  • AND between keywords narrows your search and will only find information with both keywords.

You can see how the search looks in the Simple Search below:

When you search Library Search, you are searching almost everything within the Library collections and this is why the search results can be so large.

Both searches were run on the 9th Aug 2021 and we now have an idea of how much literature has been written in relation to silver and honey.

This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 1: Find out how much literature is available related to silver and wound* and honey and wound*.

You can do this by clicking on the search links below.

Our initial search show us that there are more results about silver than there are about honey and wounds.

We can now filter our search and improve its relevancy.

Try the following approaches and you can apply multiple filters!

  • use the Library Search filters to focus on the information you need.
  • use the article filter to limit your results to journal articles.
  • use the online filter to limit your results to online articles.
  • use the peer-reviewed journal filter to restrict your results to peer reviewed articles.
  • use the publication date slider. Think currency of content and do you need to find everything back to 1600?!

2 - What is a scoping search?

Scoping searches are those first set of searches for information you run in resource to find out more about your topic.

We can use these scoping searches to experiment with a variety of different search terms and techniques to see what gives you the best results. These are important searches as the results of these searches should help you answer the following questions:

  • Is there enough literature to write a literature review? Sometimes, there is not enough literature and it may be necessary to adjust your literature review. If you find yourself in this position, get advice from one of your academics!  

  • Can you access the information you need? Use the free Document Supply Service to request books and articles we do not have in the Library Collection.

  • Does the information you need exist? Is the information in public domain? If you need academic papers, has the topic been covered by academics?

  • Are you still interested in the topic after reading a few papers?

You may need to amend the focus of your literature review. For example, there may be too much literature to review or there may be too little literature to review... but we will not know until we run those scoping searches!

Our scoping search

We have used Library Search as the search covers almost all the resources the Library provides access to. We could have chosen other resources like Web of Science, Scopus or Dimensions to run the scoping searches but for these initial searches we wanted to use Library Search. 

It is wise to choose a resource that has a lot of content to help gauge the volume of information that exist  in our chosen subject.

Library Search, Web of Science, Scopus and Dimensions are four of the largest databases and this makes them a useful starting point for searches.

Please bear in mind, it is not possible to use Library Search to search within SciFinder. If you need to use SciFinder, you would have to go to the database and search it individually.

The search cycle

Lets think about our search for information as as search cycle. Researching for the literature review information has different steps and we may been to refine a search before you find the information you need to write your review. 

This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 2: Watch the short video below which takes you through literature searching steps in under 60 seconds.

3 - Do I have to read everything I find?

Be selective and read what you need.

Reading is a life long skill but reading for academic purposes is different to reading for fun:

  • You don't always read the textbook from cover to cover. You may read one or two relevant chapters.

  • You sometimes dip into sections of the journal article before you decide to commit to reading the full paper.

  • To help you decide if the paper is something you need to read, read the abstract, the conclusion and the discussion. If it still is relevant, read the first and last lines of each paragraph. Still relevant, make a drink and start reading!

  • If you are planning to cite and referencing a piece of information,  we do recommend you read it in full!

  • To help with understanding, you can make notes or you may highlight sections or words to help you remember the key points.

If you want to find out more about reading for academic purposes and how you can use active reading techniques to get the most out of your reading... take a look at this short tutorial.

The reading learning object created in Articulate will be included here.

4 - How to read specialist sources

Here are specially selected resources related to Biosciences, Chemistry and Health to help you understand how to read journal articles in these fields.

The resource are selected from professional bodies or organisations related to Biosciences and Chemistry plus links to the academic reading resources recommended by the Skills Centre resources.

5 - Choose a relevant source to read from your search results

From your search results, choose a couple of resources to read.

We recommend you read around before confirming your literature review topic to make sure you are still interested in the topic and understand the literature you are working with.

Depending on your level of subject knowledge about your literature review, you could choose:

  • relevant section of a textbook.
  • specialist book.
  • review article.
  • original research paper.
  • or there may be another resource type in your search results that is relevant.


We would choose a couple of review articles in relation to honey or silver from our search results. A review article on a subject is particularly useful at this point as it will give you a snapshot of what is happening in this field of research. Remember if there are concepts or terms you are unsure about - look them up in Access Science!


We recommend you engage with your reading by making notes and highlighting useful information.

Here are a few books to help you find out more about making notes and using your reading in your writing.

6 - Do I need to read books?

This is a picture of stacked books in front of books shelves.

Books have multiple uses - great for consolidating understanding and helping decode journal articles!

Books tend to represent established theory and state of knowledge. However this may not always be the case as some books may be written to challenge established theory or may be suggesting alternative models, highlighting new findings or trying to persuade you to change or modify your view! Bools are also useful to use in tandem with journal articles as we look back into the textbooks to make sure we understand a concept or process that a journal article has referred to but not covered in detail.

In general though, books are good places to get an overview of a subject but tend not to be as up to date a journal articles. The publication process for books tend to be slower than the publication cycle for journal articles.

From looking in Library Search, here are a few books, we may take a look at to check developments in the field:

7 - Is it enough to just search Library Search?

You could stay in Library Search for all your searches but we would recommend using your specialist databases. 

After searching Library Search and Google Scholar, you should carry out an in-depth search in relevant specialist databases.  We recommend this as the search features in the databases allow you to search in depth and have additional features that can help with your literature review.

Some databases allow you to refine your search by different criteria.  As well as selecting the search terms, you may also need to consider the date range of material, type of research, the population involved and where possible peer review articles should be selected.

You can also sort and view your results in different way.  Different databases will offer different sort features for example: 

  • cited by values
  • relevancy
  • date
  • title of publication
  • usage
  • author order

What is a specialist resource e.g. a database?

A database is an online resource that organises information in a way that makes it possible to search the information easily and effectively. You have access to many databases through the Library, each of which let you carry out sophisticated and thorough searches within particular subject areas. Many of these databases concentrate on journal articles, but others include or focus on other sources. 

Information from many of these databases can be searched via Library Search. However, searching individual databases will usually let you carry out much more precise or complex searches than a general purpose search tool like Library Search or Google Scholar. You may find running your literature searches in the databases yields fewer results but the results may be more specific and relevant!


How can I find my specialist databases?

Take a look on your subject guide. These guides are written by your subject librarian and are designed to help you find and use specific academic resources. You'll find information regarding books, eBooks, specific journals and key databases that are relevant to your subject. 

This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 2:

  • Go to the homepage of the Library subject guides.
  • Find the most relevant guide to your literature review.
  • Go to the journal or database section in the guide.
  • Take a look to see which are the most relevant specialist databases that you may have to run additional searches in.

8 - There are more sources that you may need to factor in to your searches!

You many need more than academic papers and need to explore other sources of information. Technical, regulatory or legal information can be found quicker if you search the resource which hosts the information.

Here are are a range of sources that commonly appear in literature reviews depending on the literature review topic:

  • Grey literature.
  • Clinical guidelines, evidence pathways or clinical trials.
  • Manuals, handbooks and other technical data.
  • Law reports and legislation.
  • Standards or patents.
  • Professional trade- or industry- specific magazines.
  • Government publications.
  • Statistical data.
  • Social media.

In addition, some research may appear as a work-in-progress before it is formally published and/ or peer-reviewed. Sources that allow you can give you an advance view of upcoming research include: 

  • Conference proceedings.
  • Preprint servers and open access repositories.

Please remember, whatever you use, you will still need to evaluate the information you find before you can use it.

9 - How can I find dissertations and theses?

Use Library Search and databases with these and dissertation content

The Library has a small selection of print dissertations which can be found using Library Search. Within Library Search, you will need to limit your search using the Dissertation / Theses (print) Content Type which can be found in Refine my results.

The theses and dissertations within the databases listed below are from a range of different subjects and degree levels.

10 - I would like to know more...

You can find a concise overview of literature reviews in the practical skills books.

Take a look at Chapter 71 to find out more! Literature reviews features in other Practical Skills eBooks e.g. Biology or Biomolecular Sciences.

Take a break

Congratulations you have completed two steps.

Time to take a break - maybe time to grab a snack! You can get some cooking inspiration from the Get cooking with the Library curated list!