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Conducting your literature review


To successfully search the literature, you need to understand the language and terminologies used by the scholars in your research field. This will enable you to identify the keywords you need to use to return relevant documents.

You will have already identified themes/concepts to your research and some relevant keywords through preliminary searches. Begin by grouping these keywords under each theme/concept. You can expand your keywords in several ways:

  • Identify synonyms and related terms. You may wish to use an online thesaurus to do this?
  • Read/scan the titles and abstracts of relevant documents to identify other keywords used in the literature.
  • Look at the ‘controlled vocabulary’, i.e., the index terms and subject headings used by databases and catalogues.

Note: be selective with the synonyms you use. For example, in gender studies you would not generally use the term ‘ladies’ but instead use terms such as women, woman, female, etc. Also consider how broad the meaning of your keyword is, e.g., some words are homographs (they are spelled the same but have a different meaning). For example, competition could mean rivalry or a contest. Bat could be a mammal or a sporting instrument. You may therefore need to add context to ensure you are not returning irrelevant results.