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Literature Review Survival Library Guide: 2. Collect relevant material

created by Alex D'Angelo

Collect the most relevant (usually “peer reviewed”) articles and books

The two tools for finding these books and articles are (a) the library catalogue and (b) the library databases of electronic journal articles.

Before you search them, spend a minute thinking about the best terms to use. Make a list of alternative words that describe your subject, and also think about general terms and more specific terms. This is important because the journal databases are good for finding very specific terms in articles, but the library catalogue tends to use more general terms.

The library catalogue

To access the library catalogue, click here.

If you find a good book reference, scroll down to the bottom of the reference and you will find the subject terms the library cataloguers have assigned to it. Click on that term to call up more books just like the one you have found.

A quick way to check the relevance of any books you find is to glance at the table of contents, the introduction and any descriptive blurbs on the back cover. The index at the back of the book not only helps you dive to very narrow topics in the book, but also gives you an indication of how much attention (i.e. how many pages) the book spends on that specific topic.

If you are satisfied with the book, look at the bibliography in the back – this can help identify other relevant sources. Following a chain of references in a bibliography like this, whether in a book or a journal article, is one of the most basic techniques of scholarship – find something that is relevant and look at the sources it used.


The library’s journal databases are particularly helpful for literature reviews. Journal articles are short and cover very specific topics, so they are more digestible than books and more likely to deal exactly with your topic. They are also quicker to publish than books and so are more likely to be up to date.

Many of these databases allow you to restrict your search to “Peer Reviewed” journals only – these are the most scholarly journals, for which each article has to be vetted by other academics before it is accepted.

Many of our databases are Full Text – so you can usually get the whole article on your desktop for downloading, e-mailing or printing – you don’t have to find it in print on the shelves.

While you can search the journal databases as simply as you search Google, you can also type in very precise searches by using AND, OR, NOT operators, Wildcards and Logical Brackets.

An example of such a search would be:

Information Technology AND Brain Drain AND (Employ* OR Jobs OR Labo?r) NOT United States

  • The AND operator narrows a search – all listed elements must be mentioned in each article: in this example we want articles that cover both Information Technology AND the Brain Drain.
  • The OR operator expands a search – any of the listed elements must be mentioned in each article: in this example we wanted Information Technology Brain Drain articles that discussed either Employment or Jobs or Labour. The OR operator is useful for dealing with alternative terms which different authors might use when writing on a similar topic.
  • The Brackets tie the options to the required material. In this example they make sure that any articles we get on labour or employment are concerned with Information Technology and the Brain Drain. If we didn’t have brackets here the search would just bring up every reference to labour in the database, whether relevant to Information Technology or not.
  • The Wildcards, * and ?, expand a search: The * deals with related words. In this example Employ* means that we get all words starting with “Employ…” – such as Employment, Employee, Employees, Employers… The ? fills in a missing letter, and is used for covering alternative spellings in British and American English, both Labour and Labor in this example.
  • NOT weeds out anything you’ve got too much of. Many of our databases are American products, for example, and you can often be flooded with reports on the American situation unless you weed it out.

Next topic: Step 3: Read/Skim materials