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Lit Review: Finding Literature

A comprehensive search for literature on your topic will require searching more than one database and using more than one search technique. The Library Quick Search on the library's home page is a good place to start, but for more sources you will want to use subject-specific databases that contain materials from the major journals and publications in a given field. 

Look for your subject's Research Guide for a list of the databases most relevant to your research topic here: 

Controlled Vocabulary Searching

What is a controlled vocabulary?

A controlled vocabulary is a list of standard terminology that

  1. is applied during indexing by a human being,
  2. describes what an article is primarily about,
  3. and is designed to meet the special needs of researchers in a particular discipline.

Databases use different terms to refer to controlled vocabulary.  The most common are subjects, subject terms, headings, subject headings, and descriptors.

Why use controlled vocabulary?

  • Find all articles primarily about your topic in the same place, regardless of what terms the author used.
    • Reduces the need to list synonyms in your search to find everything relevant.
    • Results will include literature in languages other than English
  • Quickly focus and narrow your search to the highly relevant literature.

How do I use controlled vocabulary?

There are two ways to find the preferred terms for your topic and include them in your search:

  1. Review the results from a keyword search and identify the standard terms for that database, and
  2. Search the database's Thesaurus or Subject Index.

The following video demonstrated both techniques.

Cited Reference Searching

In addition to keyword searches, you will want to search by cited reference.

Image demonstrating the web of citations in scholarly literature.

Researchers typically cite the work of many others. You can use these lists of references to find more sources on your topic.

Image depicting more recent articles in a web of cited references.

You can also follow the citation trail forward to find more recent studies that cite one you are looking at.

Web of Science allows you to easily perform cited reference searching. Watch the video below to find out how.

How to do a Cited Reference Search

Google Scholar

Changing your Google Scholar settings could save you a lot of time.


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