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Doing your literature search – University of Reading

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Doing your literature search

A literature search forms part of the wider ‘literature review’ process of almost any major piece of academic research. It involves finding out what other work has already been done in your field. It will help to shape your research by:

  • outlining the intellectual progress of research in your field to date
  • establishing whether your research is original
  • suggesting a narrow and defined scope for your study
  • putting your work into a wider context
  • suggesting possible methodological approaches

This guide will give you tips on doing your literature search and guidance on what to do with the references you find.


  1. What might you include?
  2. Where to look 
  3. Search tips
  4. Getting the items you find
  5. Managing your references
  6. Keeping up-to-date
  7. Further help

Top tips

Allow plenty of time for your initial literature search and keep up-to-date throughout

Consider what might you include. How much information? What kinds of information, and at what level?

Decide where to look - use the Library guide for your subject as a starting point

Master search techniques to find relevant references

Find out how to get hold of material if it's not in the Library

Devise a system for managing your references early on

Ask your subject liaison librarian for help

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