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Writing a Literature Review: Step 2: Finding Information

This guide is designed to help students writing a literature review for a Master's level project or paper. It can also be adapted to use with a large research project at other levels.

The Research Process

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O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library
651-962-5494 (Circulation)
651-962-5001 (Reference)
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Charles J. Keffer Library
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LibrarySearch is the library catalog of six private colleges and universities in the Twin Cities, including Saint Thomas. Books from other campuses can be requested online and delivered to the St. Thomas library of your choice..

Off-Campus Access

With very few exceptions, UST Libraries resources are available from off-campus.  You will be asked to enter your UST username/password.  This is the username you use for your UST email, not your Banner ID. 


GET IT example

Click the GET IT buttons within any of our databases to get the full text of the article (if available).  We don't own every e-journal, but those that we do own will be available through the GET IT button.  Those that aren't available can be requested through ILLiad

Watch this video for more info.

Selecting a Topic and Finding Search Terms

In the internet age, people easily accept 125,000,000 hits when they search Google or other search engine. You will probably be asked to use library resources and not the general internet for your project.  Library databases don't work the same way Google does.  It is easy to get too many, or too few, results when you are searching a database. This guide will offer some suggestions for focusing your search and 'thinking like a database'.

First of all, start with a strategy, such as:

  • write the topic down in the form of a sentence or question
  • identify the key concepts of the question
  • try to think of at least one or two synonyms for each of these concepts
  • if the database you are going to use has a thesaurus (index of subject headings), go there and search for the concepts and synonyms you have thought of.  If related terms are suggested, review these, and possibly select and search a few.
  • search each of your concepts separately (you can have 2 or more related terms in a concept)
  • use the Boolean operators (and, or, not) to combine the results that you get in the previous step

If you are having trouble thinking of search terms, the table below may help by providing a focus.  It is an example, and is arranged in a way that identifies groups of people, activities or actions, places or locations, and disciplines or subject areas.  These concepts are only suggestions; you may have other words that will also work as part of your search strategy.  You can choose any combination from the columns, but usually you need at least two concepts. Another way to look at it is to think of the questions: who, what, where.  Who are you studying?, what are they doing?, where are they doing it?

Other Tips

Use Good Search Terms

If you are not finding good search results, you may want to take a closer look at the terms you are using.

A keyword search should cover only the essential concepts in your research question, and should not include words like "strategies", "effects", "benefits", "pros and cons". These words are generally not used as subject headings. That leaves you the option of searching them as keywords. but if they do not appear in the title or abstract, they won't appear in your results. In ERIC and other databases, the articles you find will probably discuss strategies or effects or benefits; without you having to actively search for them.

For example, if your question is: What are some strategies for using manipulatives with third grade math students? Your keywords could be: manipulatives, AND third grade or elementary school, AND mathematics or arithmetic. Notice that 'strategies' is not included.  You will still find articles that discuss strategies without that term in the search.

Use the AND and OR operators effectively

AND and OR are connectors we use in databases to combine ideas.







Using AND

Using AND between two or more search terms (or result sets) requires that all of the search terms appear in your results.  Use AND when you are combining different concepts.  In this example, AND retrieves only the dark blue part where the sets for Bart AND Lisa intersect.

Using OR

Using OR between two or more search terms (or result sets) increases the number of results that you get because it retrieve items that have any of your search terms.  You should use OR between synonyms or related terms, because this helps you find more results that are related to your topic than a single term would.   In the example, OR retrieves anything that is inside either the Bart or Lisa sets as well as those that include both.

Combining AND and OR

It is possible to construct very targeted searches. Here is an example: (mathematics OR arithmetic) AND (third grade OR elementary students).  However, we recommend that you start by searching each concept separtately.  First, search the math concept.  Second, search the age concept.  Then use AND to combine them. It may take a minute longer, but you will have greater flexibility in manipulating concepts as you go along.

Avoid acronyms

Acronyms generally, are poor search terms.  For example, if you type EBD in a search box, the database will only look for those letters in that sequence.  It doesn't understand that you are probably looking for emotional behavioral disorders, and bring you articles about that topic.

Use truncation and wildcards

Every database has tools to help you. These include symbols that you can use to truncate a search term.  When you put this symbol at the end of a letter string, it will look for any ending of that word.  A wild card symbol can be used in the middle a word to find alternate spellings.  Look at the"help" area of the  database for information about these tools.  Some common truncation and wildcard symbols used in databases are: *, ?, !, +.

ERIC, for example, uses an asterisk (*) as a truncation symbol.  Searching for 'curricul*' will retrieve 'curricula', 'curricular', 'curriculum' and 'curriculums'.

Wildcards can help with alternate spellings. For example, searching for 'wom?n' will retrieve 'women' and 'woman'.  Again, be sure to check the 'help' information for the database your are searching to see what symbols it uses.

Okay I'm Ready--Where Do I Start?

Use LibrarySearch to search for books on your topic.  There is a link to get you started in the left column.

Use the databases to find journal articles on your topic. Use the link below to find your subject area and begin.

Contact me for assistance

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Conrad Woxland
Charles J. Keffer Library | MOH 206F
Subjects: Education, Psychology

I Found This Citation... how can I get a copy of the article?  We get that question a lot.  We have a link on the library homepage to search just journal titles--it is linked below.  Click on it and type in the title of the journal you are looking for (NOT the article title), and (if UST has access to the journal--in any format) you will get a list of where we have it.  Sometimes it may be online, sometimes only in print at a library, and sometimes it may be in microform in a library. Try it out.