Skip to Main Content

Searching for Scholarly Articles

Some basics on finding relevant articles.

What is literature searching?

Searching for literature can seem like a trial and error process. A consistent, structured search can save your time. As you progresses and refine the search, the history of search can help you improve the relevancy of your search results.

At times, searching for articles can be easy and quick while at other times, it is not as easy! Both processes require some basic skills which are explained in this guide with examples.

A 10 step literature search process for successful literature search

  1. Think about your research question. 
    • In most cases, your research question can be obtained from the assignment topic. Start reading about the topic using websites/books and gather some understanding around the topic which can be investigated further. Refer to the guide finding topic.
  2. Identify the key concepts of your research questions
  3. Think about alternative terms or synonyms of the identified concepts
  4. Choose the most appropriate databases to search
  5. Combine your search terms using Boolean operator
  6. Consider any limits that you want to apply
  7. Run your search and review your results
  8. Adapt your search strategy, if necessary
  9. Save your results and search strategy
  10. Retrieve your materials.

Watson, Mandy. (2020). How to undertake a literature search: a step-by-step guide. British Journal of Nursing (Mark Allen Publishing)29(7), 431–435.

Example Scenario

You would like to search for a recent ( within the last 5 years) scholarly article for an assignment regarding the influence social media has on the image of nursing. You begin with framing a question.


1.  Research Question: “What impact does social media have on the image of nursing?”

2.  Key Concepts: 

What impact does social media have on the image of nursing?

  • image of nursing
  • social media

3.  Alternate Keywords

  • image of nursing : professional image, nursing profession
  • social media : social media OR social networking OR Facebook OR Instagram OR Snapchat OR Twitter OR tiktok

4.  Select the database

  • As the research question is about nursing, we can choose CINHAL for conducting the search.

5.  Use Boolean Operator for combining your terms

  • Use OR for combining synonyms of key concepts.
  • Use AND for combining different key concepts together.

6. Use Quotation marks and asterisk to limit and/or expand

  • Expand results using asterik* - Use asterik when you are expecting multiple word ending like Nurse, Nurses, Nursing
  • Focus Results using “Quotation Marks” for phrases. Use quotation marks "" to search for a specific phrase e.g. “professional image”

7. Example Search Statement

("image of nursing" OR "professional image" OR "nursing profession" ) AND ( "social media" OR "social networking" OR Facebook OR Instagram OR Snapchat OR Twitter)

8.  Start the search

Copy the search statement into a relevant database.  In this case CINHAL.

9.  Apply filters as necessary

  • Scholarly / Peer-reviewed
  • Year (publication) : 2016 - 2022
  • Language: English

10.  Retrieve and evaluate the search results. Revise your search if necessary.

Questions? Please connect with your librarian.

A realistic process

A realistic search process is iterative; as you can see below you will go through the steps until you get the best results.

A realistic searching process