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KP Bibliotek

Assignment skills

Literature search

Literature search is an important task when writing a paper or an assignment.
In the following you will be introduced to different types of search strategies, how to plan your search, complete and document it.

Quick literature search / unsystematic literature search

Quick literature search can give you an immediate overview of your topic. Definitions of words and concepts can often be found from a quick search on the internet, or you can explore and orient yourself in the professional literature.

In quick literature search you can search in different databases, with keywords you immediately come up with. You can also find and locate books on the subject that are in the library.

In quick search you don’t need to prepare nor systematise before the search.


  • The advantage of unsystematic searches is that they are quick, and they show if you need to change your research question or your topic or consider which aspects of the problem to focus on within the paper.
  • The disadvantages are that quick search can be quite imprecise and that they rarely will be able to cover more complex issues.

Systematic literature search

In systematic search preparation is essential.  


Systematic search has some advantages.


  1. Your search will be more thorough than a quick search.
  2. You will have an overview of your search so it can be documented in your paper.  


To search systematically it is an essential prerequisite that you know how to use some basic search techniques. These techniques are used often in systematic search. You will learn about these in the following sections.

Boolean operators

Searching for more than one word at a time can be an advantage. You can combine your search terms by using Boolean logic. Boolean logic consists of three operators: AND, OR, NOT. The operators are explained below.



AND refines the search. It requires

that both search terms OVERWEIGHT and DIET, must occur

in the references (dark green field).

References that contain only one of the words

will not be included in the search result.



OR expands the search. References that contain either

OVERWEIGHT or OBESITY or both search terms will

be included in the search result.

This is illustrated by all fields being blue.



NOT refines the search. Only one of the search terms will

be included in the search result.

In this example all references that contain

both search terms DIABETES and OVERWEIGHT will

be removed from the search result.

The references in the search result will contain only one

of the two search terms, in this example DIABETES

(The yellow field)



You can use truncating to include various endings of search terms in a search. When you truncate, you search for various endings of a word. For instance, if you search for CHILD* the database will also search for the words CHILDREN, CHILDCARE, CHILDS etc.

The truncation sign is often an asterisk (*) and sometimes a question mark (?) Different characters are used in different databases.

Search tools

There are several kinds of search tools available. Both Google and Wikipedia are search tools. The library website is another kind of search tool, where you may find scientific literature. There are many different types of databases, each with its own kind of information and special focus.

Library catalogues

A library catalogue contains references for books, journals, articles etc.
In the library catalogue you can find out which books are available and how to get them.
Some examples: KP Library,


Databases contain references to journal articles, books, and other documents.
A bibliographical database may merely register the documents formally, so that you can retrieve them, or it may contain the documents themselves as full text.

Systematic search angles

In general, systematic search involves putting your keywords into a form. You will most likely need to use the Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT) described earlier when searching the databases.

There are different methods you can use to systematise your search, and the methods may differ from subject to subject.

Read more on:

Additional search options

Chain search

Chain searching is a method of searching for literature in which you use a document to find other relevant sources and documents. For instance – if you have found a book that is relevant to your research question, you can look in the bibliography of the book to see If there is any of the literature in it that seems relevant. A chain search consists of finding suitable literature by leading you from one text to the next, which leads to the next and so on.

  • The strength of the chain search is that it leads from one good reference to another, and you will be able to follow the development of arguments through your literature search.
  • The weakness of the chain search is that you might lack references that present different understandings or raise objections to the text that started the chain.


Building block

Building block search strategy is a method for investigating more complex questions or problems. Divide your topic into aspects or blocks, write down the search words for each, search each block on its own, and then combine the blocks or aspects. The building block strategy is useful for various databases.