Literature search strategy

Sometimes you are required to explain your literature search strategy used in your research. Even when you are not officially required to do so, including the explanation of literature search strategy in the literature review chapter is going to boost your marks considerably.

Keeping a literature search diary to write your search activities is a good way of keeping track of your literature review progress. The diary can be in the paper format, a Microsoft Word file or an Excel spreadsheet and include the following

  • Names of sources
  • Search terms used
  • The numbers of search results generated from each source.

Generally, you can conduct your literature search strategy in the following stages:


1. Identification of search terms. For example, for a study entitled “An investigation into the impacts of management practices on the levels of employee motivation at Coca-Cola USA” search terms can be specified as management, management style, motivation, employee morale, leadership, satisfaction, work-life balance, and others.

Your search strategy for the relevant literature should also consider synonyms of key words. For example above, the search term of employee motivation might be referred to elsewhere as employee morale or employee willingness.


2. Finding an initial pool of online and offline resources according to the search term. Equipped with search terms, a vast pool of relevant literature can be generated from a wide range of sources. The most effective secondary data sources include the following:

  • Bibliographic databases such as Emerald and Google Scholar
  • Online libraries such as Questia
  • Conference proceedings
  • Key industry journals and magazines


3. Filtering the literature according to credentials of authors. Due to the word limits imposed for the literature review chapter, as well as, other chapters of the dissertation, it is not possible, nor desirable to discuss all of the sources you have found in this chapter. Only the works of the most noteworthy scholars and authors need to be included in the literature review.

Scholars with the highest credentials do usually publish their articles on peer-reviewed journals and respectable magazines, rather than newspapers and online blogs. You should take this into account when devising and applying your literature search strategy.


4. Further filtering the remaining literature according to contribution of the text to the development of the research area. Regardless of the type of the selected research area, the literature review will identify many works that have been completed by respected authorities in the area. Due to word limitation requirement only the most important contributions of the research area need to be mentioned in the literature review.

For example, within the research area of organizational culture such contributions can be mentioned as Harrison’s Model of Culture (1972), Competing Values Framework by Cameron and Quinn (1999), Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, Trompenaar’s Cultural Dimensions and others.


5. Filtering the remaining literature according to date of publication. Your search strategy for the literature needs to give more preference to recent publications. Apart from the inclusion of major models and theoretical frameworks, you have to focus on the latest developments in the research area. Therefore, it is important to be critically analyzing up-to-date sources in the literature, and the majority of the literature discussed in this chapter need to be the ones that were published during the last five years.

Literature review chapter of your dissertation needs to include literature that remains after applying all five literature search stages discussed above.


Literature search strategy My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance offers practical assistance to complete a dissertation with minimum or no stress. The e-book covers all stages of writing a dissertation starting from the selection to the research area to submitting the completed version of the work within the deadline.

John Dudovskiy