Skip to Main Content

Search strategies

Search different spellings and plural/singular

An asterisk (*) or truncation symbols means I don't care how it ends  e.g. behav*

  • In this example, the database would search "behavior" and "behaviour" in both their singular and plural forms

Search phrases

Use quotation marks " " to search for a particular phrase  e.g. "cognitive dissonance"

Proximity searching

Proximity searching lets you search for two words near each other e.g. ankle N2 sprain* will look for those words within two words of each other in any order

Using AND/OR

Avoid typing sentences into the search box. Always use AND or OR between different ideas:

  • AND (if you want all the words to appear in your search results) e.g. "cognitive dissonance" AND shopping
  • OR (if you don't care which word shows up) e.g. college OR university

Subject headings vs keywords

Keywords Subject terms

Natural language words that describe your topic

Pro: Easy to combine terms

Pro: Can search for them anywhere in the source

Con: Can be difficult to narrow results

Con: Might retrieve irrelevant results

Pre-defined vocabulary that describes your topic

Pro: Can quickly rule out irrelevant sources

Pro: Often retrieves more accurate results

Con: Harder to combine terms (need to know which terms exist)

You can improve your search results by combining the keywords you brainstorm with the subject headings each database uses to categorize articles. These headings or tags are added to articles to make them easier to find and group.

In PsycINFO, the subject headings are called APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms

In Medline/PubMed, the subject headings are called MESH

In CINAHL, the subject headings are called CINAHL headings

In SportDiscus, the subject headings can be found in the Thesaurus.

Strategy 1: Carefully review the references of relevant articles you've found

Rubio, C., Osca, A., Recio, P., Urien, B., & Peiró, J. M. (2015). Work-family conflict, self-efficacy, and emotional exhaustion: A test of longitudinal effects. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 31(3), 147–154.

Strategy 2: Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find out who cited the articles you've found

Google Scholar


Literature reviews

What is a literature review?

It describes and evaluates the research that has been done in a particular area of research. 

  • In general, a literature review should be a concise and comprehensive discussion of a narrow, well-defined research question.
  • The goal is usually to identify relationships, contradictions, controversies, gaps and potential next steps in the research.

Why do it?

  • Reviewing the literature on your topic gives your ideas for your research question
  • It helps you understand the big picture and background to your topic so that you can identify where your proposed research fits in the existing body of knowledge.

What is it for?

  • Providing a literature review as part of your research paper lets the reader know what literature you examined and what research is being drawn upon, and demonstrates your knowledge of the topic.
  • A literature review demonstrates how and why your research question is important and worth asking.

Literature reviews should synthesize and compare studies that discuss different aspects of your topic, depending on your purpose (for example, you might compare experimental method, population studied, theoretical framework, etc.).

Here are some questions to consider as you read articles

  • How widely applicable are the findings? Can the findings be explored in a different setting or with a different population?
  • What are the implications of these findings?
  • Could the research design/methodology/test instrument be applied or tested in a new context?
  • Is there another way to measure the variables of interest?

These questions can help you keep track of comparable aspects of the articles you find. They can also guide your search for more articles related to the one(s) you've already found.

Additional resources for literature reviews

For more information about conducting literature reviews, please see the Conducting Literature Reviews guide on the Undergraduate Research page.