Skip to Main Content

Literature Reviews

This guide is intended for students who are seeking help on writing a literature review.

Step 3: Search The Literature

When searching the literature, it is important to come up with a keyword search, or search string. Columbia University defines a keyword search as the following:

A Keyword search looks for words anywhere in the record. Keyword searches are a good substitute for a subject search when you do not know the standard subject heading. Keyword may also be used as a substitute for a title or author search when you have incomplete title or author information. You may also use the Guided Keyword search option to combine search elements, group terms, or select indexes or fields to be searched.

Remember to keep track of what keyword searches you have conducted so you can save time and determine how to improve your search and continue with the searching process.


Once you have completed a search, it is important to refine your search, to get exactly the information you need.You can refine by source type (book or peer reviewed article) and year (only sources published since 2010). 

How to Search with Keywords

Your keywords are the main concepts or ideas of your paper. 

Shows how Boolean works (Synonyms with OR between them) AND (Synonyms)

For example the keywords for a paper on “youth employment in Canada” would be:

  • Youth
  • Employment
  • Canada


Use synonyms: Often there are multiple ways to express the same concept. For example these synonyms mean essentially the same thing – make sure to use them:

employment can also be:

  • job
  • work
  • career

Use “AND” and “OR”: By bridging your truncated keywords and synonyms with the capitalized search words “AND” and “OR” (known as Boolean operators), you can search for multiple concepts effectively.


Books and EBooks

Internet Resources

Quick Tips & Shortcuts for Database Searching (Video)