Tips for Literature Search
Literature search is important because you need to connect your own work to that of others, and you should not waste time by solving problems that already have been solved. You can also replace the word “literature” with the term “knowledge”: You are searching for existing knowledge, so that you can build on it and add new knowledge.
The process for literature search works as follows:
- Start searching for papers by keywords
- Filter by title and abstract
- Browse through selected papers
- Read selected papers thoroughly
- Update your search terms or sources for searching
The figure above shows the process how to search through literature. The process it iterative, because you learn more both about your problem and the work that has already been done while you find results.
Update search keywords: You learn which keywords to search for, i.e., that a specific concept already has a specific name in literature. Then you update your list of keywords and search again.
Modify your problem: When browsing through papers or reading them thoroughly, you may find that you need to change your problem description, which effectively leads to updated keywords.
Filtering is important: There is only a limited number of papers you are able to read. Be therefore selective with which papers you continue or which ones you read through in detail. However, don’t ignore papers either. It is important that you end up with a good overview over the most relevant papers.
Find more papers: There are many ways in which one paper leads you to discovering other papers:
- References: Have a look at the reference section of a paper and look for relevant other papers. Since papers can only refer back in time, these papers are necessarily older.
- Cited by: Many search engines and online catalogues also collect other papers that a certain paper is cited by. These are sometimes even more relevant, because they are newer papers.
- Related: Many search engines show you related papers which can be interesting. Sometimes this can be helpful.
- By author: Have a look at an authors work. Often, the same author has several publications that are interesting for you. You can also look up their homepage and find more co-authors or papers from their projects or research groups.
- By conference or journal: You may also see that a paper was presented in a specific journal or at a specific workshop or conference, and look up other relevant papers from that place.
Search Engines and Online Libraries
When you access the papers from the campus network, you will be automatically recognized as a user and can download PDFs of the articles.
- When browsing through the papers, make notes about your findings and discuss them with your supervisor.
- Categorize important papers to get an overview of the field.
- Summarize relevant papers in a few sentences, so you later remember why you were interested in that paper in the first place.