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Conducting a Literature Review: Searching the Literature

The Scope of Your Review

A literature review may be part of an introduction or a stand-alone paper. There is not a set number of references that is deemed "enough" for reviews, so authors will need to determine the breadth and depth of the literature to include. Consider:

  • How comprehensive will it be? I.e. All emergency care settings or only prehospital settings?
  • How many years should it cover? All relevant material or only more recent material?
  • Is your selection of sources wide enough to find the relevant material?
  • Will you consider research in languages other than English?

Make sure that the inclusion and exclusion criteria are clear.

Searching Tips

Tips for searching the literature

Major Databases

A literature review will require a search of one or more databases. Keep track of the databases that you search, the dates when you searched, and your search strategy, so that you may report this information in your review.

PubMed or Ovid 

Both contain references to scholarly journals in the areas of biomedicine and health from the MEDLINE database. See the LibGuides.

CINAHL Plus with Full Text

Provides indexing for 3,000+ journals from the fields of nursing and allied health.


A collection of abstracts and citations for peer-reviewed literature in the scientific, technical, medical, and social sciences. See the LibGuide.

Education Resource Information Center (ERIC)

Provides a range of publication types, including articles, books, conference papers, technical reports, and policy papers related to the field of education.


An American Psychological Association (APA) collection devoted to peer-reviewed literature in behavioral science and mental health.

Cochrane Library

Includes full-text systematic reviews (of the highest level) of methodological studies and protocols.

Browse the Databases page or LibGuides in your specific discipline for additional database suggestions.

Citation Management

When you find articles of interest in a database or search engine, bibliographic management programs make it easy to create a collection of references (citations and/or articles) and cite them in your document in the citation style of your choice.

  • RefWorks is a web-based program that is free to UTHSCSA students, residents, faculty and staff. Share folders of citations, PDFs, and other documents with group members. See the RefWorks LibGuide
  • EndNote offers many of the same features as RefWorks for a fee. It is available from the campus TechZone
  • Mendeley is a free application and does not require Internet access.
  • Zotero is open-source and free, yet requires an additional plug-in to manage PDFs. Internet access not required. 

        *Briscoe Library provides classes and support for both RefWorks and Endnote.