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Homepage / Systematic Literature Review – Selecting your Sources

Systematic Literature Review – Selecting your Sources


In our previous systematic literature review post we identified some background reading for getting started, explained how to find other systematic literature reviews to help you understand what is required, and how reviews should be structured and written up.

Before undertaking your systematic literature review, you should already have undertaken a broad survey of the literature to help you understand the scope of the field and where your research fits.  This will have helped you refine your research question and identified keywords that describe the concepts and topics which you need to investigate in more depth.

Now you’re ready to get started. To retrieve the relevant literature for your systematic review you will need to:

  • select the sources which you need to search;
  • identify your search terms and construct your search strings;
  • decide on your search strategies (how you are going to combine your search strings).

This post looks at the first of these areas.

Selecting your sources

When carrying out your research you may need to look at all types of documents, depending on your topic, including books, theses, conference papers, reports, working papers and other ‘grey literature’.  However, none of these can be searched in the same systematic way as journal articles.

Journal articles are the unit of currency for academic research, as this is where academics publish their first research findings. Conferences are where the ideas are first presented but generally, academics are looking for feedback and may then refine the ideas before publishing their findings in article form.

Journal articles can be found in aggregator databases, indexes, and publisher databases. An aggregator database collates information from many publishers and can be subject specific, whilst a publisher database collates information from one particular publisher. To help you decide which sources to select, see the table below listing some of the key aggregator databases, indexes and publisher databases.

Indexes and Aggregator Databases  Publisher Databases
 ProQuest One Business (includes ABI/INFORM)*  ScienceDirect
 EBSCO Business Source Complete*  Emerald Insight
 Google Scholar  Wiley Online Library
 SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network)  Taylor & Francis Online
 PsycINFO (for psychology related sources)*  Sage Journals
 Scopus*  SpringerLink
 Web of Science*

The * indicates those sources which can be searched systematically. For example, they contain content from many publishers, not just one, and they provide functionality that enables complex search strings to be constructed, something not all publisher databases provide. These are the sources which should be used for a systematic literature review.

The subject databases and indexes should include articles listed in the publisher databases, e.g., Emerald is entirely indexed in ProQuest One Business (including ABI/Inform) and ScienceDirect is indexed in Scopus. If there is a specific journal that is relevant to your research field and you are unsure if it is included, try searching for it by publication title in the relevant subject database and/or index. If you think you are missing articles by not searching the publisher databases, or your supervisor recommends that you search using a specific website, then do use these. The choice is yours!

Next steps…

Another blog post you may find useful:

As always, if you have any questions on the systematic review or on any other area of your research, please do not hesitate to contact the Library Service.

Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay

Mandy Smith

Written By: Mandy Smith

Mandy has worked for Cranfield Library Service since 2004 and is a Research Support Librarian supporting researchers and research students at Cranfield Defence and Security and the School of Management. She teaches a range of study skills as well as helping researchers use the resources they need to find information. She provides advice and support on REF and funder compliance, open access publishing and other research-related topics.

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