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EESC 550: Research in Earth and Environmental Sciences

Literature Review to Thesis/Dissertation - Research and Writing

Developing Your Search Strategy

Step 1. Choosing your topic + developing your question

  • Centered around your thesis/dissertation and is often what was included in your proposal. 

Step 2. Keyword selection


  • Subject headings
  • Preferred terms
  • Synonyms
  • Abbreviations
  • Acronyms
  • Variant spellings
  • Scientific names vs. colloquial names
  • etc.


  • Database thesauri to find preferred terms and subject headings
  • For author assigned terms provided on relevant literature
  • In Google for help to identify synonyms that are commonly used
  • For related previously published literature reviews that might identify common terms.

Disclaimer: Keywords and their synonyms may vary based on focus of your research question -- if you are looking to identify research where a particular current or out-of-date term was used then using both to search may not be necessary. 

Using Limiters

Step 3. Scope

Questions to consider before selecting limiters:

  1. How comprehensive is your review going to be?
  2. Are there certain countries of publication you are focusing on? Certain languages of publication? 
  3. Is there a date range you are looking to discuss and does this impact the range of literature you want to review? 
  4. Are you looking for all types of literature - published, grey literature, peer-reviewed, books, articles, etc.? 

Applying common limiters:

  • Date range - e.g. past 10 years
    • Note - since we are in early 2021 you may want to go 11 years or pick a firm start year
  • Peer-review
  • Original research only OR reviews/secondary research as well
  • Language

Complex search tips:

  1. Boolean Logic
    • AND | OR | NOT
  2. Truncation:
    • ‚ÄčUsing the root of the word – add an * at the end to bring back all endings
  3. Phrase Searching:
    • Use quotations around more than one word
    • Note: doesn't function in all databases

Choosing Databases

Step 4. Select Search Locations + Step 5. Searching

Searching for journal articles, theses/dissertations, conference proceedings, reports, etc.:

  1. Try reviewing subject/research guides in your appropriate areas to see which databases are suggested. 
  2. Review the UBC Library list of databases
    • Can narrow by subject area, although not always comprehensive
  3. Consult with your professor and/or supervisor(s) for suggested resources
  4. Locating theses/dissertations can help to identify past graduate research on similar topics.

Searching for books and items not found in databases:

  1. Use Summon, the general library search tool, to look for print and e-books available through the library
    • Summon can also be used to find related materials in databases that may have been outside of your original plan.