Literature & Bibliography

At the beginning of a Ph.D, or writing a paper or book, during your whole researcher life, or even to write a grant, literature research is a crucial task.

With the web and the era of electronic information, time consuming became mind confusing, today the major issue with information is more organization than access.

Here is the endoskeleton of a basic literature research, for most for domains, sciences and disciplines.

Analyze your topic.

Determine precisely what are you trying to achieve with your search and set up the scope. If a lot has been written on the topic or if little information exists, you may need to adjust your scope.
-Identify gaps in the current body of knowledge
-Identify trends and predict future developments

Keyword brainstorming

Make a list: main keywords, related terms, alternative spellings, but also synonyms and acronyms that are directly or somehow related to your topic.

Keep in mind that your first three or four main keywords (actually term or phrases) must reflect what you are looking for AND can be easily entered into a search engine.

Then create categories, rank system, prioritize. … and the explore.
As you progress in your research, you might need to update your keyword list

Determine search limits at the start AND regularly

Place your research in context, pick your limits and be consistent.
Check for relevant literature in related fields
Review your own progress or re-evaluate your position, try to find keywords you hadn’t thought of before.

Every hour and two hours, sit back, have a break and check if you are still reading relevant information and not wasting your time in a awesome unrelated paper.

Find the right sources.

The shape of the literature varies between subject areas.

In some scientific disciplines, journal articles are referred to as primary sources of literature with books as a secondary source. Databases like MEDLINE, CINAHL, and OT Search are most likely used. Pubmed and Web of Knowledge are one of the biologist’s favorite websites.

In some social sciences this distinction is reversed, with books referred to as the primary literature and journal articles as the secondary.

Be critical of your references.

    Are the references in your search results worth pursing?
    Do they meet your defined parameters?

Article abstracts, if available, may help to answer these questions.
Google, for example is not recommended for pure literature searching because quality and reliability of the information depends on the source.

Check the source!!!

Determine if a reference is from a reliable source. Are any obvious political or social biases being conveyed?

Record your search results.

Recording your research will save you time and keep you sane.
Use 3 x 5 note cards if you are old school.


Use a bibliographic management software program, such as RefWorks, or Endnote to help manage your citations.

Know how to locate materials.

Examples for biologists: NCBI, pubmed, European Ncbi>>>…

Google scholar

The greatest advantage to using Google Scholar comes from its useful ranking feature. The results of searches are organized in terms of “impact”, so the most cited papers appear first.
However, this means that you could miss that hot new paper that has not had time to be cited yet. It means that when you are starting an essay, you will be able to start off with references to seminal works in the field rather than just the freshest papers.

Updating your literature and bibliography


It provides information on a personalized web page whenever new articles appear in PubMed or when new sequences are found in GenBank that are specific to customized queries. The server also acts as an automatic alerting system by sending out short notifications or emails with the latest updates as soon as they become available.


One of the world’s most comprehensive research databases, giving you access to over 28,000 journals, >50 million article citations and conference papers through the British Library’s electronic table of contents.

News/current affairs

You may like to register for a news feed. The OU Library website provides details about setting up news feeds.

Professional societies

Professional societies can be useful for news, specialist resources and libraries, talks, personal contacts for advice, training, in-house publications and conference bulletins libraries.

Mailing lists and Newsgroups

Another way to keep up to date is to join newsgroup or mailing list. These are also useful for forging links with the wider research community and for placing your research in context.

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