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Searching the literature

A guide for staff and students undertaking a thorough literature review

Finding articles

OneSearch is a good place to start - use it to get an idea of the amount of literature there is on your subject. 

However most researchers need to use specialist databases because they

  •  are often more comprehensive
  •  have search tools not available through OneSearch
  • focus on your area and so reduce irrelevant material

You should search several different databases because:

  • each database covers a different range of journals and other sources
  • the years covered vary
  • some databases focus on a particular subjecty area and so will return papers which are especially relevant to you
  • indexing systems vary and you may retrieve different papers
  • search tools vary

Use your subject guide to identify the specialist databases we recommend for your subject.

Finding books

In many subjects, books are a vital source of information.

Union catalogues bring together the catalogues of many different libraries.

  • COPAC is the merged online catalogues of the largest university research libraries in the UK and Ireland, plus the British Library.
  • Karlsruhe Virtual Catalog (KVK) brings together records of millions of books and serials in library and book trade catalogues worldwide and is particularly useful for coverage of collections in Eastern and Western Europe.
  • WorldCat (via OCLC FirstSearch) is particularly strong for US collections.

Older books Search our electronic book collections, which include many texts from the 19th and 20th centuries and before.


Newspapers are a rich source of historical as well as current information.

Theses and dissertations

Theses and dissertations are not indexed in most subject databases, so you should look for them separately. They matter because they often contain cutting-edge information, or go into more detail than any work the author may have published.

Grey literature

Grey literature includes reports, conference proceedings, standards and patents, government publications and many other important documents which aren’t books or journal articles.


If your topic is focused on worldwide issues, or concerns multicultural topics, it is recommended to read the Decolonising Literature Searching LibGuide for additional guidance.