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Conducting a Literature Review for the Social Sciences

Search Tactics for Searching


  • Combine keywords with AND and OR
  • Do Field searching by using the Advanced Search: search by title, author, keyword, source, etc.
  • After doing a search, you can sort by Relevance, Peer Reviewed, Publication Date, etc.
  • Subject 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 (uses 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). One example is JSTOR.
  • Spell out acronyms.  For example, "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act"  in quotes for HIPAA

  • Whenever possible, include synonyms or alternative terms in your search to describe your topic. ORed terms should be in parentheses so that the database understands the search.
    For example,
      (youth OR adolescent OR teenager)
    For example, (therapy OR intervention OR program OR treatment)

Search Tips

Using an asterisk and quotation marks can improve your search.

  • Use an asterisk at the end of a word to find variant endings of a word
    • Example: homeless* will find homeless, homelessness
    • Example: adolescen* will find adolescent, adolescents, adolescence
  • Use quotations to search for phrases. 
    • ​​​​​​​Example: "literature review"
    • Example: "social work"

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)
  • Suggesting relevant databases to search
  • Managing your references with citation management tools (e.g. EndNoteWeb)
  • and more