Library Searches

The best place to start a literature review is the Purdue Library website (  The site provides several options for conducting a search, but for journal articles, there are two primary ways to start. 

You can quickly begin a search by using the search box that appears on the front page. You can search for articles first by clicking on the "Articles" tab.


Another good method to search for articles is to click on the link for the Advanced Search.  This method gives you a little more control over your search process, with options for keyword, title, author, subject, publication date, etc. You can search multiple areas, including combinations of keywords, years, and authors.

Begin your search with as wide a “net” as possible by using general terms.  Afterwards, there will be two ways in which you can narrow your search.  One method is to zero in on the articles from your current search parameters.  You can do this by using the links that appear to the left of the search results page (as shown in the example image below).  Typically, you will have categories such as topics, dates, authors, etc. from which to choose. Clicking on these will limit your current results to those criteria.  A good technique is to use a general search term, and then use the topics to narrow the results to your specific area.

Another useful method for narrowing your search is to re-perform the search using additional search terms.  You can do this by entering additional information in the search options at the top of the page.

Ask your mentors what databases they frequently use for research.  Often you can obtain more relevant results by starting your search directly from a focused database such as Web of Science, JSTOR, PubMed, etc.

Keep in mind that your search may time out after a period of being idle.  Be sure that you write down in your notebook the search terms you used so that you can replicate your search.  Another good tip is to look for articles that may be of use, and copy their bibliographical information so you can find them later, or if the full text of the article is available, download it so that you can read it later.

Successful initial searches for journal articles simply take patience and practice.  Begin with broad terms, and work your way to more specific terms until you find articles which are relevant to your research project.

Many of the articles you find will have the full text available as a pdf document, but not always.  This is one case where Google Scholar ( can be a useful tool. Google Scholar indexes journal articles and you can often find the full text of articles using Google Scholar (that may not be available through the library site) by simply searching the title of the article.  Using this service from a computer on campus (or if you are off campus, logging into the library site first) will enable searches on additional databases. While Google Scholar is another excellent search tool, it is not citable itself. You may cite articles that you find via Google Scholar, but you would not cite Google Scholar itself.

Remember the key articles we mentioned that your mentor may give you to learn more about the topic of your research?  The papers referenced in these key articles are a great way to search for relevant papers that can be used in your literature review.  You can typically find e-copies of these papers by selecting the 'e-journal tab' in Purdue's library main page.

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