Steps for Searching the Literature for Evidence

Consider the following step-wise approach to conducting your search or adapt it as you see fit. And keep in mind that this is an iterative process!  

  • Define your research question.  Think about your research question and its basic elements.  Use these basic elements to structure your search. 
    • Example research question: How effective are mosquito nets in reducing malaria infection?
    • Example basic elements to search for: mosquito nets, malaria.  
  • Plan your search approach.  Identify what databases and gray literature sources you will search.  How will you organize the results of your searches?  How will you screen the searches for inclusion in your review?
  • Document your process.  Keep track of the databases you search, when you searched them, the search strategies that you used and how many results were found with your searches.  This will help you to feel more in control of the search process.

Using Review Articles as a Starting Point

Review articles are scholarly articles that describe and summarize a body of research or knowledge on a particular topic.  These can be useful in getting to know more about a topic and beginning to understand where gaps in the literature exist (i.e., what questions still need to be answered).


Review articles can be found in the many scholarly research databases available through the library.  See the "Searching the Literature" section of this guide to learn more about the databases that cover topics such as sociology, psychology and public policy.


Go to the Cornell Library Databases Page to see a list of databases available to Cornell community members. 

To find review articles, do a search in an information database, for example in Web of Science.  Most databases will allow you to refine your search by document type.  Choose 'Reviews' to narrow your search to review articles only.


Note:  Review articles and peer-reviewed articles are not the same!  Peer-review refers to scholarly literature that has gone through a rigorous review and revision process prior to publication.  This can include review articles, but also empirical studies (which are NOT review articles).

In Web of Science and similar databases, select review to refine your results to only reviews