Systematic literature reviews

No single source will cover all the literature on a particular subject. To ensure a robust overview of the available literature on your topic, we suggest searching at least three relevant sources, including databases. Some information resources to consider are:

  • Multidisciplinary & subject-specific databases
  • Citation databases & Reference lists
  • Grey literature sources.

If you are completing a literature review for a project or thesis, ask your supervisor about key information sources which should be consulted for your topic.

Multidisciplinary & subject-specific databases

What are databases?

Watch the following video to find out what databases are, why you should use them for your literature review searching, and the types of databases available.

Selecting a database

Curtin Library subscribes to many multidisciplinary and subject-specific databases. The Databases A-Z list is a tool for selecting relevant databases for your subject area.

What about Google Scholar?

Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. Although Google Scholar can be useful, it will not allow the sophisticated searching which is possible with most academic databases. In addition, as Google Scholar is a compilation of records from databases and other sources, a Google Scholar search may simply retrieve items that have already been identified in database searches.

Searching a database

Watch the video below to learn how to conduct a systematic search in two library databases: ProQuest and Business Source Ultimate, and learn tips for translating your search strategy between databases.

Thesaurus terms

Many databases use controlled terms, known as thesaurus terms or subject headings to categorise articles or records. Thesaurus terms vary for each database. In your search it can be helpful to use subject headings or thesaurus terms in addition to keywords. For more information see our video on Keywords vs Subject Headings.

Citation databases & reference lists

When you find an article or paper that is key to your research, you can use its reference list to locate other relevant items. You can also discover new resources by looking at who has cited a particular article since it was published or by searching for highly cited articles on your topic. Citation databases such as Scopus and Web of Science are useful when searching for cited references.

Grey literature

Grey literature can be an important source of information, especially in some topic areas. For advice on whether or not you should include grey literature in your review, please check with your supervisor.

Grey literature: An introduction [PDF, 2.42MB]

  • What is grey literature?
  • Why consider grey literature for your review?
  • Searching for grey literature
  • Evaluating the quality of grey literature

Can’t find any literature on your topic?

If you are having trouble finding literature on your particular topic, in the first instance consider the following:

  • Are you performing a comprehensive search with a variety of terms?
  • Have you correctly applied search functions (AND/OR, truncation, phrase searching etc.)?
  • Are you conducting your search in a database/s suitable to your topic area?
  • Have you considered non-journal article sources e.g. grey literature (if appropriate for your research topic)

If after checking that your search strategy is sound, you still can’t find anything, you may need to broaden your approach to your topic or conduct a parallel search. You should then be able to establish links between the evidence you have found through your broader or parallel searches and your specific research topic.

Let’s consider the following topic: Use of smart watches to support learning in primary schools.

If you can’t find any literature on smart watches you could broaden your search to look for information on wearable technologies or wearable devices.

If you can’t find any literature relating to primary schools you could conduct a parallel search on the use of smart watches in high schools or universities. What is applicable in high schools or universities may be applicable in primary schools as well and you could use this information where the situations are similar.