The Importance of Search Terms for Literature Searches

Literature Review

Search terms are the words you use to search for literature related to your study; they represent the keywords and central concepts of your study. Literature reviews usually contain a section called methods of searching or literature search strategy that should include not only your search terms but the processes you used to locate and choose the material for your literature review.

A common mistake people make when writing their literature reviews is that they include too much non-relevant information. Usually this is the result of not knowing exactly what to include. Your search terms can help you to narrow down and focus on relevant material for your literature review.

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Your search terms should include words that describe the phenomenon you are investigating. However, if you leave it at that, you will get too much material. So, you need to focus on what exactly you are studying related to the phenomenon. For quantitative studies, the search terms for your literature review should be drawn from your variables and factors as they relate to the phenomenon, as well as any associated theories you may be using for your theoretical foundation. For qualitative studies, search terms should include the major concepts of your study as they relate to the phenomenon.

Literature reviews can be further tightened by giving preference to peer-reviewed material published within the past five to seven years. This helps you to give a snapshot of current research in the area.

Literature reviews can be challenging. However, having a good sense of your search terms will help you to focus on what to search for and include in your literature review.