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Literature Reviews for the Humanities, Social Sciences, & Sciences: Search Strategies and Tips

Search Strategies and Tips

1.      Search Strategies

a.       Formulate a research question:

What has been written about retention of Hispanics in higher education?

b.      Identify databases, both subject specific and interdisciplinary, for example:


                i.      Brainstorm keywords and identify subject headings/descriptors, for example:

Keywords: retention -> graduates, graduation

  higher education -> college, university

  hispanics -> latino, latina

Relevant ERIC descriptors:  Retention; Academic persistence; Drop out prevention; Academic achievement; School holding power; Hispanic American students.

               ii.      Keep track of search strategies.

              iii.      Do multiple searches with different combinations of keywords and subject headings/descriptors, such as:

hispanic american students and (retention or graduat*)

              iv.      Search for literature reviews on topic. 

  In databases with a methodology limiter, such as PsycInfo or Medline, type in your search:

and then scroll down to limit by methodology:


For databases without methodology limiters or subject headings/descriptors for the concept, try combining your search terms with phrases such as:  literature review, systematic review, meta anlysis, review article, recent studie, and so forth.

               v.      Keeping current using alerts and RSS feeds.

c.       Identify key authors and works to establish the foundation for your argument's place in the ongoing academic/scholarly conversation.

d.      "Cited by" - this feature allows you to identify who has cited specific works in their own research. This can also help you find more current publications citing sources important to your own research.  In Google Scholar, for  example:

e.       Mine reference lists for additional materials that may be relevant to your topic.

f.       Depending upon your topic, you may want to identify popular/non-scholarly authors and texts that may be relevant to your argument.

g.      Be sure to check with your personal contacts, such as faculty and colleagues, for additional authors or publications that may be important to your work.

h.      Browsing the library shelves by call number can be another means of discovering relevant literature.

i.       Consult your reference librarians for research help throughout the process.


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Jenny Bowers
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