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Conducting a Literature Review for the Social Sciences

Search Tactics for Searching


  • Combine keywords with AND and OR
  • Field searching: search by title, author, keyword, source, etc
  • Sort by Relevance, Newest, etc
  • Subjet searching in each database (MeSH, Thesaurus, CINAHL Headings, Subject Terms)
  • Use the database's limiters (e.g. limit by "peer-review", year, English-language)

Keywords vs. Subject Headings

  • To pinpoint your keywords, use subject searching (use subject headings--controlled vocabulary of a database). 
  • Some keywords have assigned subject headings while others do not. 
  • To find if your keyword(s) have a suggested subject heading,
    look for a link to the Thesaurus, Subject Terms, MeSH, CINAHL Headings (names varies depending on database).
  • Some databases do not allow subject searching (that is, they don't have a thesaurus). 
  • Spell out acronyms.  For example, "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act"  for HIPAA

  • Whenever possible, include on your search synonyms or alternative terms to describe your topic. 
    For example,
      (youth OR adolescent OR teenager)
    For example, (therapy OR intervention OR program OR treatment)

Consult Your Librarian

Research support from subject specialist/liaison librarians.  Librarians can help you with...

  • Developing your search strategy
  • Identifying keywords and finding the full-text (whole article)
  • Suggest relevant databases to search
  • Managing your references with citation management tools (e.g. EndNoteWeb)
  • and more