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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Demystifying the Literature Review

This guide provides an overview of the literature review and its place in a research project, thesis, or dissertation, and demonstrates some strategies and resources for finding the information you need using the U of I Library.

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Teaching, Learning, and Academic Support Library
Main Library
1408 West Gregory Drive
Urbana, IL 61801

Tap Into the Scholarly Community

  • Talk to your advisor and colleagues
    • Ask for advice on who to read or talk about what they have read recently.
  • Follow people on or similar social networking sites where people talk about their work.

Where should I start looking?

Best bet: Subject-specific databases

Although you can start your literature review through places like EasySearch or Google Scholar, your results will be very broad-based and may not return all resources that are relevant to your topic.

A better place to get specialized resources for your research would be a database targeted at your discipline(s).  You can find a complete list of the library's databases on the A-Z Databases List.

Filter by:

  • Subject
  • Type of database (e.g. Data & Statistics, Primary Sources, etc.)
  • First title letter

Or, search for a specific database by name.


Additional Resources

Subject Librarians

Subject Librarians are available to provide specialized research help in your discipline.  They can help you narrow your topic, brainstorm search strategies, and identify the best places to begin your search.  Use the Subject Specialist list to identify which librarian you should contact!


Subject Libraries

You can find target resources and research guidance on the home pages of each topical library - for example, the Social Sciences, Health, and Education Library (SSHEL) or the Grainger Engineering Library Information Center.

Library Guides

The library has created many guides to get students started on their research.  Some are more broad in scope, while others are targeted to a special topic or class assignment.  You can explore Library Guides by subject, type, library, or title.

Search Strategies

When you know your topic and want to explore what else has been written, you will search for articles, books, dissertations, and other types of publications in various databases. It is important and useful to know how different search terms work in databases. Here, we will cover keyword and subject searches.

A keyword search involves typing into the search box the terms that you use when you think about your topic.

subject or descriptor search means that you have identified (usually through keyword searching and looking at your results) the specific terminology used in a database to talk about your subject.

Subject and descriptor terms tend to be more formal and also more precise (less ambiguous)

A good example is the term teenagerWe use that term in everyday speech and authors may use it in their articles, but a database is most likely to assign the subject heading of adolescents.