BIOL 5174 - Intro to Grad Studies - Biological Sciences: Science Literature Reviews

Resources, techniques, and tools for finding and keeping track of research literature for Biological Sciences thesis, dissertation, and other research projects.

Plan Your Literature Review Project

  • A great overview video on Graduate Lit Reviews from NCSU Libraries
  • Get set up
  • Conduct background research 
  • Develop one or more Research Questions
  • Identify Outcomes or Information you need to answer your questions
  • Identify at least 3 databases / search engines to use
    • Brainstorm keywords and phrases based on major ideas in your topic and research questions, including synonyms
    • Try out initial searches in a research literature database
    • Adjust your search strategy/ies to get results relevant to your topic
      • Consider comprehensiveness of results
    • New Publication Alerts: Identify how to set alerts for new publications with your search terms
  • Search all 3 databases or more
  • Document your searches: (1) date searched, (2) database/search engine used, (3) keywords or prhases (4) index terms or headings, (5) limits/filters (6) set an alert (7) your notes on the search results
  • Save your search results in a citation manager
  • Update your citation manager when your alerts send new results
  • Make a plan for notes - as you read, identify:
    • Themes
    • Theories
    • Methodologies / Protocols
    • Outcome measures
    • 'Future Research needed'
    • Gaps that you notice
    • Questions you have about the papers you read
  • Review search results and write notes on outcomes, other key information
  • Repeat the above as needed
  • Get assistance outlining, writing, or reviewing your draft literature review


Article - Research Methods for Science Literature Reviews

Read this short (1 and 1/2 page) article, "Research Methods for Comprehensive Science Literature Reviews"


1. How do the methods suggested compare with your usual research practices? How will you consider changing your research routine after reading this article?

2. Look at the handouts linked at the end of the article - will any of these be useful to you?

3. This article is from 2009 - do you think it needs updating on any points?

4. What tips would you add to those presented in this article?

Peer Review and Reliability - Discussion

 Case Study:  Who's Afraid of Peer Review?


Read the full story, published in Science, here:

(You can also Listen to the following news story:


1.  What does this story mean to you?

2.  When you're doing research, how can you tell which articles (and journals) are trustworthy? (Tip, check out the Think, Check, Submit method)

3.  Go to a journal website for a journal you're interested in, or search the DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals for an open access journal in your field and review a journal against the Think, Check, Submit criteria. What do you think? Would you submit a manuscript to this journal? Why or why not?

4. What other ideas do you have, or what else have you heard about that could promote the publication of high quality, rigorous research and scholarship?

Biological Sciences Librarian

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Amanda MacDonald
560 Drillfield Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Office: Newman Library 3043