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Systematic Approaches to Literature Review Searching

Selecting sources to search

No single source will cover all the literature on a particular subject. To ensure a robust overview of the available literature on your topic, we suggest searching at least three relevant sources, including databases. Some information resources to consider are:

  • Multidisciplinary & subject-specific databases
  • Citation databases & Reference lists
  • Grey literature sources.
If you are completing a literature review for a project or thesis, ask your supervisor about key information sources which should be consulted for your topic.

Multidisciplinary & subject-specific databases

What are databases?

Watch the following video to find out what databases are, why you should use them for your literature review searching, and the types of databases available.

Selecting a database

Curtin Library subscribes to many multidisciplinary and subject-specific databases. The Databases A-Z list is a tool for selecting relevant databases for your subject area. 

What about Google Scholar?

Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. Although Google Scholar can be useful, it will not allow the sophisticated searching which is possible with most academic databases. In addition, as Google Scholar is a compilation of records from databases and other sources, a Google Scholar search may simply retrieve items that have already been identified in database searches.

Searching a database

Watch the video below to learn how to conduct a systematic search in two library databases: ProQuest and Business Source Complete, and learn tips for translating your search strategy between databases.

Thesaurus terms

Many databases use controlled terms, known as thesaurus terms or subject headings to categorise articles or records. Thesaurus terms vary for each database. In your search it can be helpful to use subject headings or thesaurus terms in addition to keywords. For more information see our video on Keywords vs Subject Headings.


Citation databases & reference lists

When you find an article or paper that is key to your research, you can use its reference list to locate other relevant items. You can also discover new resources by looking at who has cited a particular article since it was published or by searching for highly cited articles on your topic. Citation databases such as Scopus and Web of Science are useful when searching for cited references.

Grey literature

Grey literature can be an important source of information, especially in some topic areas. For advice on whether or not you should include grey literature in your review, please check with your supervisor.