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Researching the Literature Review

How to guide for researching and managing the literature review.

Use Subject Databases

Use more than one database to make sure you're finding the most perspectives on your research question. Databases are often organized by subject (for example, Sport Science or Psychology). Specialized subject databases can help you search more precisely in your field. Find subject databases in your field by clicking the Databases A-Z link below the 1Search entry field on the OSU Libraries homepage. On the databases page, sort your results by subjects to see a suggested list of databases in your field.

1Search search bar example

Learn more about searching in subject databases by watching this tutorial.

Try Citation Searching

Once you have found some relevant or important articles on your topic, one way to expand your search is through citation searching.  Citation searching looks for all of the articles or books that have cited your initial paper since it was written.  There are two main databases you can use for this kind of search:  Web of Science and Google Scholar.  Both of these databases cover somewhat different sources, so it can be helpful to try both.

Web of Science (Tip - make sure you choose the Cited Reference Search option):

screenshot of a Web of Science searchbar highlighting "cited reference search"

Search by the first author's name. Web of Science is picky - enter the last name first and then the first initial(s) without a period.

screenshot of Web of Science search bar's cited reference search

Find the entry that matches the article you had in mind. Especially look at the Cited Work and Year Column. Select that entry, then choose Finish Search.

screenshot of searches from Web of Science

Google Scholar (Tip - click on the cited by link to see all of the citing papers):

screenshot of Google Scholar

No online version available? Don't worry!

Located some promising article citations within an OSU Libraries database?  The next step is to get the actual article.  In most of our databases, that begins by clicking the Find it @ OSU button:

360 link to full text


This will take you to a page where you can access the PDF or HTML full-text of the article, by clicking on the publisher's link:

screenshot of publisher's link

If we don't subscribe to that particular journal, click Request from interlibrary loan. After you request the article, you will receive an email with a link to the article, typically within 13 hours.

screenshot of a OSU library request link for Interlibrary Loan


Search Strategies

Most of us start a search with key words that we want to explore.  Some additional search approaches are to:

  • Begin by reading review articles, which are articles published in peer reviewed journals. Review articles synthesize and summarize the work of a particular sub-field, rather than report on new results. They can provide helpful background information. Read about how to find review articles in the database Web of Science, or simply try adding "review" as a keyword to your topic search. For example, captive breeding zoos review. See this article on pangolins for an example of a review article.
  • Search by the author of an important paper you find
  • Use the references from a useful book chapter or article
  • Use citation searching to find out who has cited a relevant article
  • Use the controlled vocabulary (also called subjects terms or categories) as illustrated in this picture to learn more precise vocabulary and narrow down your search

Tip - 1. Enter short keywords.  Click Search.  2. Look for options to narrow your search results using controlled vocabulary or subject terms on the left-hand side of the results page.

screenshot of search bar



Searching Tricks

Here are some tricks of the trade to make your searches more effective (these work in most databases):

  • Use quotes to search for an exact phrase or name
  • Use an asterisk with word roots to expand beyond an exact word


Searching in Google? Try these tricks:

  • Search for a specific file type - filetype:pdf
  • Search within a particular website -
  • Look for related words with a ~

screenshot of google search bar

From: Hack College, Get More Out of Google


To Do - Advanced Searching

Look for subject databases:

  • Go to the library's homepage, click on the Databases A-Z link.  Using the "Subjects" filter, choose a subject that matches your field of study.  How many databases are recommended for your field?

Try out a citation search:

  • Go to Google Scholar and look up Nehlsen 1991.  Look at the first result (from Fisheries).  How many times has this article been cited?
  • Go to Web of Science, click on the Cited Reference Search tab and search again for Nehlsen as the author and 1991 as the year.  How many times is the article published in Fisheries v. 16 listed as being cited in Web of Science?

Try searching for review articles:

  • Go to Web of Science, enter a keyword search on the main search page.  Once you get a list of search results, go to the left-hand column of the page, look under the Document type section for "review."  How many review articles are there on your topic?
  • Try looking for review articles in a different subject database.  Alternate routes for finding review articles in other databases are under Treatment types> Literature Review in Compendex and under Publication Type>Review in Medline.  Alternatively, in Google Scholar add the word "review" to your keyword search to find review articles.