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Department of Psychology Library

This page provides some literature review pointers, including links to resources that provide in-depth literature review help. For one-to-one support, please get in touch with the



Start your literature review early

Your literature review will help you to find out what is already known about the topic you are investigating and will enable you to understand your research topic thoroughly. It may help you to avoid inadvertently replicating work that has already been done. It will help you to answer that important question: Which areas deserve further investigation? 

You can learn more about the literature review in this handy video from North Carolina State University Library:

CC 3.0


Be systematic

Approach your literature review in an objective, methodical and structured manner. Plan what you are doing in a way that you could describe so that somebody else could replicate what you have done.


Define your research topic, and frame it as a question

Clarify your research question. What is the scope and purpose of your research topic? What criteria are you including and excluding in your question?




Identify the keywords in your research question

Identify the keywords that form your research question and then search for synonyms, including jargon terms and abbreviations. For example, if your topic is focussing on people in the 12-19 age range, your keywords might include: teenagers - teens - youths - adolescents

Consider whether there are variant spellings of your terms, for example: pediatric - paediatric

Be aware of morphological variants in words: find - found or data - datum

Consider how your keywords can be truncated to get the largest number of search results. For example, searching for anxi* would find all the following: anxious - anxiety - anxiousness

(Different databases use different truncation symbols, for example, the symbol may be * or ? - you need to know which it is in a given database.) 

The major databases index articles using controlled vocabulary thesauri. If possible, match your keywords to the terms used by the database.

Use Boolean operators to tailor your search.

AND Use AND to find records containing all terms separated by the operator.
OR Use OR to find records containing any of the terms separated by the operator. 
NOT Use NOT to exclude records containing certain words from your search.

Once you have a string of terms, you can put them in a table, such as the one pictured below, ready for carrying out a targeted Boolean search:


Some databases enable you to conduct nuanced searching. For example, they may offer proximity searching and phrase searching. It is worth familiarising yourself with the basics of searching in each database you use.

Search for and retrieve material 

To search for peer-reviewed journal articles, make use of the variety of databases available to you, including PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science. They do not all index the same material, so by interrogating them all, you will cover more bases.

Identify the key journal/s in your area of interest and look through some individual issues to get a broader perspective on the area.

To search for books, try major catalogues such as COPAC or WorldCat.

Consider other sources, such as websites and blogs. Google Scholar is worth searching, but bear in mind its limitations. It has limited ontological knowledge, and it searches broadly. It will also retrieve non-peer reviewed material.

If you are having difficulty retrieving the full text of relevant material, please get in touch with the .


Manage your results

The recommended style for citations and referencing for research projects or dissertations for the undergraduate courses offered by the Department of Psychology is APA.

Use reference management software, such as Zotero, Mendeley or EndNote. The UIS provides software training (self-paced) for referencing management software (Zotero, Mendeley and EndNote).

If you need extra help, go to the comprehensive guide to referencing, Cite Them Right Online avaliable here.


Extra help needed? 

There is help on how to critically appraise material on the Psychology Library Guide.

Please book 1/1 support with the Librarian. (If no time available, contact your library here)

Stay current

For longer pieces of work, set up current awareness alerts in the major databases.

Links to literature review chapters

Ford, N. (2012). How to do a literature review. In The essential guide to using the web for research. SAGE.

Reardon, D.F. (2006). The literature review. In Doing your undergraduate research project. SAGE.

Thomas, D.R. and Hodges, I.D. (2010). Doing a literature review. In Designing and Managing Your Research Project: Core Skills for Social and Health Research. SAGE.

Bell, J. (2010). Doing your research project: A guide for first-time researchers in education, health and social science (5th ed.). Open University Press.  See especially Part 1, Chapter 5.

The Psychology Library has multiple copies of Sternberg, R.J. and Sternberg, K. (2010). The psychologist's companion: a guide to writing scientific papers for students and researchers. 5th edition. Cambridge University Press (Psychology Main Library class mark T.1.2). This book gives excellent advice on how to write clearly, and it includes a chapter on commonly misused words. It is also available as an ebook; to access this, go to IDiscover.

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