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HDR Literature Review Plan

Plan your literature search

Just like conducting a higher degree by research (HDR) project, a comprehensive literature search starts with effective planning. A literature search plan can:

  • Ensure your literature searching is comprehensive
  • Prompt you to think critically
  • Guide your searching to focus on your topic
  • Document your search processes to minimise replication over your candidature
  • Save time 

Research Process

The process of finding, evaluating and selecting literature for your thesis is not linear. You may need to revisit several steps throughout the process to gather information.

The below flowchart provides a visual depiction of the iterative nature of researching, and some reflective questions to guide you.

Flowchart diagram overview

The flowchart depicted includes the following steps:

  1. Plan your search
  2. Run your search
  3. Evaluate your results
  4. Reflect: Did I find relevant, authoritative information? No = Refine your search then return to step 2. Yes = Move to step 5.
  5. Start reading and notetaking
  6. Reflect: What have I discovered? Do I need more information? Yes = Refine your search then return to step 2. No = Move to step 7.
  7. Start writing

Design your search query

Before searching literature in databases, you need to formulate a search query based on your research topic. A search query is the translation of your research topic into searchable keywords and phrases that can be used in databases and Google Scholar.

Summarise your question or topic

This sounds obvious, but to begin searching you need to be clear about your topic.

Write down a summary of your topic and check that it's clear and focused. This will help guide you in the sort of information you are looking for.

Identify the keywords

Highlight, underline or circle the keywords or main concepts in your summary. These words can help you build your search strategy and set parameters.

Think of alternative search words for each concept

Authors will use different terminology for the same concept so it's important to think of alternative words for each of your concepts. These can be synonyms, related words, abbreviations, acronyms and other words that are specific to your topic.

Doing this will ensure that you don't miss out on any useful articles that you might otherwise miss if you only use one or two search terms.

Boolean operators

Use Boolean operators AND OR, NOT to combine these terms into a meaningful search. These operators are a means of combining search terms to broaden or narrow search results.

AND   Use AND to retrieve documents that contain both of the specified search terms.

OR   Use the OR search operator to retrieve documents that contain one or both specified search terms

NOT   Use the NOT search operator to retrieve documents that do not contact the specified term.

Example search

Follow the example below of how the steps previously outlined have been used in a search planner.


For more information on search techniques visit Search tips and planning

Search planner

To help you in planning and developing your search as well as assisting in keeping track of your searches, download and use the Search Planner document below.