Literature Review Basics and Searching Skills

Why should I document my search?

Documenting your search can help you:

  • Keep track of what you've done so that you don't repeat unproductive searches
  • Reuse successful search strategies for future papers
  • Help you describe your search process for manuscripts
  • Justify your search process

This is a critical step for rigorous review papers, such as systematic reviews. Documenting searches for traditional (narrative) literature reviews is not essential but will help you stay organized and perhaps save you some time.

What should I document?

Consider whether it makes sense for you to document the following during your search process:

  • The databases and resources used
  • Search strategies for each resource, including the search terms and limits used (e.g., dates, language, etc.)
  • The date each search was conducted
  • The number of results for each search strategy
  • Notes on any individual journals that were searched separately

How can I document my search?

We recommend that you document your search strategies using a tool with which you're comfortable. Commonly used tools include desktop or web-based word processors and spreadsheet software. Web-based software (e.g., Google Docs or Google Sheets) should be considered for collaborative projects.

Below are examples of how you can document your search strategies using either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. Please see our systematic review guide if you are documenting a search strategy for a systematic review.

Search strategy documentation using Microsoft Word        

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