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Searching the literature

A guide for staff and students undertaking a thorough literature review

How do I know I have found everything? When can I stop?

  • To be confident you have found all the relevant material on your topic, do a cited reference search in GoogleScholar. This is best done when you have completed your search in the databases and have identified the key papers. Simply put each title into GoogleScholar and see who has cited that paper.  This brings you right up to date and ensures there are no significant gaps in your results.

Sensitivity vs Precision

  • High sensitivity/low precision. A sensitive strategy is one that should find all the relevant papers – but will recover a lot of irrelevant ones at the same time. A lot more sifting required!
  • High precision/low sensitivity. In a precise (or specific) strategy a  high proportion of the results are relevant, but there is a risk of missing potentially useful records.

What about material in a language I can't read? Translations

  • Search for other publications by the same authors - they may have reported on  their work elsewhere, in English. Contact them to see if they have unpublished material in English they can share with you.
  • Check on the language skills of people in your work group or in your department.  There may be someone who can do an informal translation.
  • Many students on campus speak another language. You may be able to get help through a student society, or by advertising in the Students' Union; It may be worth asking in the Department of European Languages and Cultures or the Linguistics Department..
  • If the material is online or in pdf form, Google translate may help you get a rough idea of the contents.
  • If a formal written translation is essential, translation services are available through the North West Translators Network, the Institute of Translating & Interpreting and the Chartered Institute of Linguists. ;Translation fees can be high, so see if your project has a budget to cover this.

What do I do if Lancaster doesn't have the books and articles I need?

Staff and Postgraduate students

Undergraduate students

In some cases it may make sense for you to travel to the British Library or use another library which does have what you need.

Can a librarian devise my search strategy for me?

Librarians cannot devise search strategies for students. We can offer advice, training and feedback on:

  • choosing where to search
  • using Library databases
  • formulating searches, for example using Boolean, keywords and subject headings
  • saving and exporting searches and results
  • using reference management software, specifically EndNote

For members of staff who need assistance devising searches for a review, we are happy to meet to discuss your project and offer advice and training. We don't currently offer a literature searching or information specialist service, or have a chargeable service that you can cost in to your project. At some times of year we may have more capacity than others. Please email to discuss your needs. 

Is there any training available?

Faculty Librarians are often invited to deliver workshops, talks, webinars and demonstrations as part of your taught programme to help you to develop the knowledge and skills required to searching the literature. 

There is also a Library & Information Skills programme on offer, which includes workshops and webinars on Effective searching.