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Study Skills

Education Library: Literature Searching

About this guide

This informative guide will help you to understand systematic approaches to conducting literature searches and equip you with the necessary knowledge and techniques required to carry out a comprehensive search.  

Providing detailed information on all aspects of the searching process, from where to search for different types of literature to how to plan and develop your search strategy, the guide will be useful for those who are new to literature searching or to those who wish to refresh and update their skills.

Navigate through the tabs on the left to learn more about literature searching - if you need any help, just get in touch (

Introduction to systematic literature searching

A systematic literature search enables you to identify pertinent literature within your chosen field.  It forms part of the wider literature review and is undertaken for major pieces of academic work at all levels from Undergraduate dissertations to Doctoral theses. 

Using a variety of specialist resources and techniques you are able to:-

  • discover what has been researched already (which will in turn enable you to ascertain the originality of your research)
  • identify gaps in existing research
  • focus your research


Where to search for different types of material

A literature search can include a wide variety of sources depending on the scope of your research and your subject area.  Most research will require you to look at journal articles and monographs but you may also need to explore other types of material, such as grey literature, including conference papers, and theses. 

Where you search for these will depend on the material type:

Resource Type Where to look
Ebooks, print books & book chapters Education Ebooks Collection for ebooks on education and related disciplines. iDiscover - the catalogue for the University of Cambridge lists all print and electronic monographs held in University Libraries. Some databases index books too, for example PsycInfo and Scopus
See the Searching for print & electronic books section for further information.
Journal articles Bibliographic databases. Some databases focus on a specific subject (e.g. BEI and ERIC), whilst others are much broader in their coverage (e.g. Scopus and Web of Science). 
See the Searching for journal articles section for further information.
Grey literature
(general sources of information)
Dedicated grey literature databases (e.g. Open Grey, OpenDOAR), organisational websites (e.g. OECD), some bibliographic databases (ERIC for e.g.).
See the Searching for grey literature section for further information.
Government publications
(grey literature)
DfE (or equivalent for non-UK material), Digital Education Resource Archive (DERA).
See the Searching for grey literature section for further information.
(grey literature)
These can be difficult to locate and access. Apollo (Cambridge University repository) and EThOS are good places to start. 
See the Searching for grey literature section for further information.
(grey literature)
Dependent on your subject, but some general education sources include: Office of National Statistics, HESA, OECD.
See the Searching for grey literature section for further information.
Primary Historical Sources
Dependent on your subject and can be difficult to locate and access.  Some collections are digitised whilst others may require a visit to a physical collection. 
See the Searching for primary historical sources section for further information.
Data Various websites are available for locating data sets, some are more general in scope whilst others are specific to education: UK Data Service, National Center for Education Statistics (US)
See the Locating data section for further information

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