Skip to Main Content

How to Write a Literature Review

Searching Techniques

Article databases, online library catalogs, and many popular search engines share several general searching techniques. Once you master these common searching techniques, you will save yourself time and find more relevant results. 

Keep in mind that not all databases and search engines interpret searches in the same way.  It's a good habit to review the database Help pages before you search so you know what searching techniques to use.

Selecting Keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

1. Express your topic in a topic sentence: “What is the effect of television violence on children?”

2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence:  “What is the effect of television violence on children?” = Effect, Television, Violence, or Television violence and Children

3. Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:

  • Television; media, TV,

  • Violence; aggression,

  • Effect; influence,

  • Children; toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls

Combining Search Terms

You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are mathematics and curriculum:

  • AND – Narrows and focuses the search results. The search mathematics and curriculum will bring only results where both the terms mathematics and curriculum are present.

  • OR – Broadens the search results. Using or will bring results where the term mathematics is present, or results where curriculum is present, or results where both terms are present. Or is useful if you have more than one way to refer to a concept -- Example: elementary or primary.

  • NOT Excludes anything where the term after the NOT is present.


Similar to truncation, wildcard symbols are used to substitute a designated symbol for one letter of a word.  Check the database Help screens to find out the specific symbol.  Wildcards are useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.  For example:

  • wom!n = woman, women
  • colo?r = color, colour