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How to Conduct a Literature Review: Step 1

Under the The Creative Commons license permission was granted to copy the design and content of this LibGuide from the Faculty of Education Library, University of Cambridge. Some content also came from the University of Illnois at Urbana-Champaign

Step 1: Planning Your Search

Identify keywords & phrases

Before searching consider the key terms that best describe your area of research.

Select the main points/ideas of your research rather than typing in a whole sentence, for example:

Invesitgate the effects of the physical classroom environment on  learning within primary-age pupils.

Organising and preparing your search

Use the search preparation form below to help you plan your search and to develop your ideas

Select your terms

Remember to:

- Think about synonyms and related terms:

      e.g. educational environment, teaching conditions, environment

- Think about American spelling

      e.g. color/colour; behavior/behaviour

- Consider the terminology you use:

     e.g. as BEI is a British database and ERIC is an American one, the 2 databases may sometimes use different terms, for example BEI uses the term ‘Black teachers’, while ERIC uses ’African American teachers.’

- Consider acronyms and abbreviations - you may need to write your term out in full

      e.g. Special Educational Needs rather than SEN

Searching for material on your topic

Searching for books

When you have decided on your area of research, you can have a look to see what material there is on your topic in the Faculty Library by using the LibrarySearch catalogue to find books by subject.

Searching for journal articles

You will also need to use academic journal articles as well as books. The best way to search the literature is to use the range of databases available to you, which enable you to locate high-quality journal articles, conference papers and proceedings from a wide range of sources. Advice on choosing a database and search tips can be found in Step 2 of this guide: Selecting a database.

Keep Track of Your Work


Keep a search log -- a notebook, an online document, and Word document, whatever format you prefer -- to track:

o      Where you searched (name of database, catalog, etc.)

o      When you searched

o      Search terms and combinations of terms that were successful

o      Search terms and combinations of terms that were not successful

o      Searches or leads you want to pursue next


Merinda Hensley gave permision for content to be borrowed by permission from Literature Review: Demystified LibGuide from the University of Illnois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Eva B. Dykes Library Libguides by Oakwood University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.