What is a literature search?
- A thorough search of the available literature (books, journal articles and reports) on a topic beyond your reading list.
- A valuable skill to aid your studies; it can also help with job applications and holiday plans as you get better at researching companies, people and locations.
Read more about ‘Reviewing the Literature’ in a research project in Sage Research Methods Online (LSE students and staff only).
Watch our screencast:
Video 1. What is a literature review and how should I plan a search?
The steps to carry out an effective literature search
1. Define your search question.
2. Identify your search terms.
3. Decide where to search.
4. Run the search.
5. Evaluate the results and refine.
6. Save the results.
Read our slide presentations on literature search strategy and literature search for systematic review (used in health research) in LSE LIFE on Moodle to get the processes explained.
Watch our screencasts:
Video 2. What are the key concepts and which search terms should I use?
Video 3. How do I structure a search and how do I choose good quality sources?
Where to search for your literature
- LSE Library Search – the gateway to Library resources. Access to online material requires your LSE login.
- Social science journal article databases – we provide access to thousands of journal articles on subjects across the social sciences through subscriptions to major databases.
- Google Scholar – searches scholarly papers and is good for finding recent publications however it offers no index of what is included on its database! Many of the items provided by LSE Library are not included on Google Scholar.
Whenever using Google Scholar do it alongside Library databases to make sure your searches are more effective. See Google Search Guide for tips on using Google more efficiently and make Google recognise LSE subscriptions.
Other sources to use for your literature search
Our Library resources guide also highlights specific databases that focus on topics such as:
Data and statistics
Historical primary resources
Watch our screencast:
Video 4. Which catalogues and databases should I use?
Saving your search and keeping up to date
- Keep a record of where you searched, your search terms and search results to save time when tracking references to your data.
- Most databases allow you to create your own account enabling you to save your searches, re-run them and set up alerts when new items are added.
- Search results can usually be printed, emailed or exported.
- Search results can be exported directly to reference management software eg, Mendeley, EndNote and Zotero.
- You can use Browzine to access articles on the go and keep up to date.
Getting further help
Doing a literature search: screencasts
Video 1: Literature reviews and planning your search.
Video 2: Key concepts and search terms.
Video 3: Structure a search and choose good quality sources.
Video 4: Which sources and databases to use.
Series transcript – Literature searching series transcript 2020 [PDF]
Guidance and workshops
LSE LIFE in Moodle provides additional materials and guidance on developing research questions and managing data.
LSE LIFE Workshop – Master's Dissertation: develop and refine your search strategy for your literature review – sign up to one for practical tips for your online research
If you have any questions related to your literature search get in touch with your department librarian to discuss.