Skip to Main Content
Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Menu Search

Writing a Literature Review

This guide will help you get started on your literature review by providing basic information on what a review is, how to write it and where to do the research.

Finding articles in research databases

You can also check your Subject Librarian's page for a list of hand-picked databases. However you will often need to look at databases across multiple disciplines in order to be thorough with your literature search. Examples:

Topic Database Subjects
social media and loneliness computer science, psychology, sociology
language and communication abilities in primary school children with autism health sciences, education, linguistics

Finding PDFs using Google Scholar

If you go directly to Google Scholar off campus, it won't know you are affiliated to Trinity and give you access to Trinity subscriptions. The easiest way to get the Trinity version of Google Scholar is to install our PDF helper app, Lean Library:

Finding books

Some useful strategies for finding books:

Try out one or two keywords in Stella Search. Then, once you find a book that looks relevant:

  • click on the title
  • look at the subject terms used to describe the book; these are links and can be used to search for more books and other materials on the same topic
  • watch out for shelfmarks in your search results that repeat - these can lead you to good areas to browse for books on the shelves; you might find hidden gems by examining the tables of contents or indexes

Here is an example from Stella Search:

Subject links in record in Stella Search


Finding existing literature reviews

Existing literature reviews may already be available for your topic. Below are some of the databases that allow you to search for literature reviews:

Here is an example searching for the topic "The use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter in post-secondary education settings." Because most literature reviews use the phrases "literature review" or "review of the literature" in the title, you can simply enter these as keywords in your search:

A search in Sociological Abstracts for a topic

Some databases, such as ERIC have "literature review" as a subject descriptor. Using this descriptor will allow you to retrieve results that only contain literature reviews:

Searching for a topic in ERIC

And other databases provide search limiters to help you narrow your search. In this example in PsycINFO, you can specify "Literature Reviews" in the Methodology Limiter (below the search boxes if you are using the Advanced Search feature):

Following citation trails

Following citation trails will help you find more resources for a particular topic of discussion. It will also allow you to situate a particular work in its greater academic context, and understand how the discussion around it has progressed. By tracking the citation forward (identifying who has cited the article), you can see how previous scholars have responded to the work, including confirmation of research findings, disagreements, corrections, criticisms and further discussions. This, in turn, will help you identify current trends in the research community and other areas for further exploration.

Google Scholar, along with many of the Library's research databases (most notably, the two big multidisciplinary databases, Scopus and Web of Science), allow for tracking citations forward.

If you are are undertaking a systematic review, citation tracking is often a documented part of the study, normally undertaken near the end of the review in the studies being "extracted".

Example: Google Scholar

A search for topic in Google Scholar

Example: Web of Science

  1. Click on the Cited References tab.
  2. To find a specific article, use the drop down menus to select Cited Author (Smith, J. for example) and Cited Title (the title of the relevant paper).

Searching for a specific citation in Web of Science

You will then see a list of articles that match your search. Click on the relevant title to get more details such as the abstract. Under Citation Network is a link to other articles within Web of Science that cite this article.

Using the Citation Network tool in Web of Science

Finding grey literature

Commercial reportIn addition to identifying published resources you will need a strategy for finding grey literature. This is usually research material that is not available via the usual published sources. This can include:

  • conference papers/conference proceedings
  • clinical trials
  • government documents
  • newsletters, fact sheets, bulletins, pamphlets
  • reports
  • surveys
  • theses

These can be identified by running internet searches, and consulting key websites of relevant organisations.

Further guidance and sources