Literature Search

A Beginner's Guide On Literature Search (+ 12 Best Tools)

Learn the basics of conducting a literature search and discover the 12 best tools to streamline your research process, perfect for beginners.

Jul 11, 2024

Literature Search

A Beginner's Guide On Literature Search (+ 12 Best Tools)

Learn the basics of conducting a literature search and discover the 12 best tools to streamline your research process, perfect for beginners.

Jul 11, 2024

Literature Search

A Beginner's Guide On Literature Search (+ 12 Best Tools)

Learn the basics of conducting a literature search and discover the 12 best tools to streamline your research process, perfect for beginners.

Jul 11, 2024

woman looking at a powerpoint as part of Literature Search
woman looking at a powerpoint as part of Literature Search
woman looking at a powerpoint as part of Literature Search

When exploring the complexities of the Literature Search world, finding relevant and reliable sources can be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. You should know the difference between primary vs secondary sources too. Imagine spending hours sifting through piles of information, unsure of where to begin or how to efficiently filter the data you need to write a research paper or find study material. 

However, this guide will provide valuable insights on streamlining your search process and boosting efficiency. Whether you are a student looking for amazing study material or a researcher aiming to write efficient research papers, this guide will help you achieve your objectives effortlessly.

Otio's AI Research and Writing Partner makes this process smoother by helping you write efficient research papers and access amazing study material with AI - all at your fingertips.

Table Of Contents

What Is Literature Search In Research?

man working with his literature search

Literature search refers to gathering existing knowledge or data on a particular topic or research question. This step is crucial for researchers as it helps them identify gaps in the existing body of knowledge, understand what has already been done in their field of interest, and build on the work of others. 

The literature search process typically starts with formulating a research question or topic of interest. Researchers then select appropriate search resources, such as academic databases, search engines, or library catalogs. Next, they develop search terms or keywords related to the research question, which they use to search. Once the search is executed, researchers access and evaluate the results to ensure they are relevant to the topic.

Throughout this process, it is essential to continually evaluate and improve the search strategy to ensure that all relevant literature is identified. A comprehensive literature search is crucial for the success of any research project, as it forms the foundation for the study and helps researchers understand the current state of knowledge in their field.

How To Do Literature Search In 5 Simple Steps

man focused on literature search

1. Planning a Literature Search using PICO(T)

The PICO(T) question framework guides your path when embarking on a literature search. By crafting a PICO(T) question, you can develop answerable and researchable questions, which will refine your search for evidence. This framework helps you identify keywords, synonyms, and subject headings that can contribute to a more efficient search process.

2. Identifying a Database

In the vast world of literature search, identifying a suitable database is crucial. While some resources overlap, each database contains unique information vital to your research. The "Big 3" databases Embase, PubMed, and Scopus are always important to search due to their extensive citation collections and broad scope. These resources are essential in providing a comprehensive view of your research topic.

3. Conducting Your Search

Now that you have pinpointed the pertinent databases, it is time to delve into the literature search process. To commence your search, utilize the keywords derived from your PICO(T) question. Start with a broad search using a few keywords and gradually add more to refine results. Controlled vocabulary, such as MeSH terms in PubMed, can enhance search accuracy. Database filters are also beneficial for refining searches based on publication type, age, language, and more.

4. Selecting Relevant Articles

Once your search is complete, the next step is selecting articles that align with your research question. Some databases offer a "similar articles" feature to recommend similar articles. Employ the "Snowballing" technique by reviewing article reference lists to discover additional relevant content. This technique involves identifying key articles and reviewing their reference lists for additional valuable sources.

5. Organizing Your Results

Organizing the articles you've collected throughout your literature search is crucial. Research databases typically offer personalized accounts for storing references and search strategies. Reference managers like Zotero, EndNote, or Mendeley are invaluable tools for maintaining article organization and generating in-text citations and bibliographies while writing. These platforms also facilitate collaboration by enabling sharing of references with others working on the same project.

Related Reading

How To Read Scientific Papers
Research Notes
How Many Sources Should A Research Paper Have
How To Read A Research Paper
Sources For Research Paper
How To Find Sources For A Research Paper
Google Scholar Search Tips
Literature Synthesis
Systematic Review Vs Meta-Analysis
• Literature Review Table
• How To Increase Reading Speed And Comprehension
• How To Synthesize Sources
• Literature Gap
• How To Critique A Research Article
• How To Read Research Papers
• Literature Review Matrix
• Skimming And Scanning
• Impact Evaluation
• Literature Search
• Types Of Literature Reviews
• How To Summarize A Research Paper
• Annotation Techniques

What Is The Purpose Of Literature Search

person in cafe with friends - literature search

Develop a fundamental understanding of a topic

A literature search is essential to establish a foundational understanding when embarking on a new project or exploring a new area of interest. For instance, imagine a person interested in quitting smoking and wanting to learn more about the treatment options available; a literature search can provide a wealth of information on various therapies, their effectiveness, and potential side effects.

Support thesis/argument of academic paper or presentation

In academic research, literature searches are crucial for backing up arguments and theses with established evidence. For example, if someone is writing a paper on the changing smoking rates over the last two decades, they might need statistics from various studies or reports to support their claims.

Justify the need for further research.

Literature searches can help illustrate what has already been done in a particular area of research, guiding researchers to where a gap still needs to be filled. For example, suppose someone is planning a research study on the effectiveness of hypnosis for smoking cessation. In that case, a literature search can provide insights into the existing studies and what questions remain unanswered.

Summarize/synthesize existing evidence related to a research question.

A literature search is invaluable for gathering all available information pertinent to a particular research question and consolidating it into a coherent summary. For instance, if someone wants to know if support groups are more effective than nicotine-replacement products for helping teenagers quit smoking, a literature search can help gather and synthesize all the related studies.

Make evidence-informed decisions in a clinical setting.

For healthcare professionals, literature searches are vital in making informed decisions that directly impact patient care. Suppose a clinician needs to recommend a treatment for a teenage patient interested in quitting smoking. In that case, a literature search can provide insights into the effectiveness of different interventions, helping them make the best choice.

Supercharge Your Researching Ability With Otio

AI research and writing partner: Knowledge workers, researchers, and students today suffer from content overload and are left to deal with it using fragmented, complex, and manual tooling. Too many settle for stitching together complicated bookmarking, read-it-later, and note-taking apps to get through their workflows. Now that anyone can create content with a button, this problem will only worsen. Otio solves this problem by providing researchers with one AI-native workspace. It helps them: 

1. Collect a wide range of data sources, from bookmarks, tweets, and extensive books to YouTube videos. 

2. Extract key takeaways with detailed AI-generated notes and source-grounded Q&A chat.

3. Create draft outputs using the sources you’ve collected. Otio helps you to go from the reading list to the first draft faster. 

Along with this, Otio also helps you write research papers/essays faster. Here are our top features that researchers love: AI-generated notes on all bookmarks (Youtube videos, PDFs, articles, etc.), Otio enabling you to chat with individual links or entire knowledge bases, just like you chat with ChatGPT, and AI-assisted writing. 

Let Otio be your AI research and writing partner — try Otio for free today!

Related Reading

How To Tell If An Article Is Peer Reviewed
Reliable Sources For Research
Literature Search
How To Summarize A Research Article
Best Databases For Research
Using Ai For Research
Summarize Research Paper Ai
How To Use Chat Gpt For Research
How To Search For Research Articles
• Meta-Analysis Methods
• ChatGPT Summarize Paper
• How To Do A Literature Search
• How To Identify Bias In A Source
• Research Concept Map
• Search Strategies For Research
• How To Read A Research Paper Quickly
• Research Journal Example
• How To Find Limitations Of A Study
• How To Take Notes For A Research Paper
• ChatGPT Prompts For Research
• Literature Search Template
• How To Find Gaps In Research
• How To Evaluate An Article

12 Best Tools For Efficient Literature Search

person using one of the best tools for literature search

1. Otio

Otio is an AI-native workspace designed to help knowledge workers, researchers, and students overcome the overwhelming content overload that plagues them daily. This tool streamlines research by allowing users to collect data from diverse sources like bookmarks, tweets, books, and YouTube videos. 

Otio also facilitates the extraction of key takeaways from sources using detailed AI-generated notes and source-grounded Q&A chat. Additionally, it supports the creation of draft outputs from the collected sources, helping researchers transition from reading lists to first drafts more quickly. Otio also offers AI-generated notes on all bookmarks, facilitates chat with individual links or entire knowledge bases, and provides AI-assisted writing capabilities.


ScienceOpen is a search engine for research papers with a visually appealing and functional design. It is freely accessible and provides detailed search results, including publication types, citation numbers, alt-metric scores, and filters for refining results. Users can access citation metrics to see which publications have cited a specific paper, enabling a deeper understanding of its impact.

3. Semantic Scholar

Semantic Scholar is a state-of-the-art literature review tool that simplifies the discovery of academic publications through advanced AI algorithms and a vast database. The tool allows users to explore scholarly articles based on context and meaning, making it a valuable resource across various disciplines. Semantic Scholar also offers personalized recommendations and alerts to keep researchers informed about the latest developments in their field.


The Lens is a versatile search tool that enables users to search scholarly literature and patents from over 95 jurisdictions. Operated by the non-profit social enterprise Cambia, this free-to-use search engine offers additional functionalities for commercial use. Users can leverage The Lens to access millions of patents and scholarly works, providing a comprehensive platform for research.


Citation Gecko is an open-source web app designed to help researchers discover relevant scientific literature more efficiently than traditional keyword-based search engines. By uploading a few "seed papers," users can create a visual citation network that highlights papers citing or cited by the seed papers. This innovative approach allows researchers to systematically uncover new papers and expand their citation network.

6. Elicit

Elicit is a popular literature review tool that simplifies the research process for researchers worldwide. With its user-friendly interface and a vast database of scholarly articles, it offers advanced algorithms for personalized recommendations. Elicit also supports collaboration by enabling users to create shared folders and annotate articles, promoting knowledge sharing and enhanced research outcomes.


Local Citation Network is an open-source scientific search engine powered by a larger library of seed papers. Developed by Physician Scientist Tim Wölfle, this tool is ideal for identifying papers researchers may have missed during their literature search. By leveraging a vast network of citations, users can expand their research scope and gain deeper insights into their field of study.

8. Scite AI

Scite AI is a popular literature review tool that enhances the research process by evaluating the credibility and impact of scientific articles. Researchers can make informed decisions about including sources in their work through innovative citation analysis. Scite AI ensures the reliability and quality of selected sources, providing a robust foundation for research endeavors.


ResearchRabbit is a versatile literature review software that helps researchers build their own citation network. This free tool allows users to add labels to entries, download PDFs of papers, and receive email alerts for new research papers related to their topic. ResearchRabbit is a private, scientific library that stores and connects all relevant papers in a specific field.


Open Access Button, a legal alternative to Sci-hub, is a search engine for research papers that helps users find freely accessible versions of academic articles. By searching thousands of repositories, including preprint servers and open-access journals, Open Access Button offers users a comprehensive platform for accessing research papers. Users can also request authors to share paywalled articles to open repositories, promoting knowledge dissemination and accessibility.

11 DistillerSR

DistillerSR is a powerful literature review tool trusted by researchers for its user-friendly interface and advanced search capabilities. With its robust screening and data extraction features, this tool streamlines the review process and enhances the reliability of research findings. Real-time collaboration functionalities also promote teamwork among researchers, facilitating seamless research outcomes.


Unpaywall is a browser plugin search engine for research papers that helps users find freely accessible versions of academic articles. This tool displays a green button next to paywalled articles that are freely accessible elsewhere, allowing users to access valuable research without restrictions. Developed by the non-profit organization Our Research, Unpaywall is a valuable resource for researchers seeking to access scholarly articles easily and quickly.

Difference Between Literature Review and Literature Search

person trying to do literature search

Literature Search: Unearthing the Foundation for Your Study

A literature search is like laying the groundwork for your research study. It involves a systematic hunt for existing information relevant to your topic or question. By conducting a literature search, you can focus on the gaps in knowledge within your chosen field.  This search helps shape your research question and study design by recommending suitable methodologies and essential variables. Research doesn't occur in a vacuum; it builds upon the foundation of past knowledge. A comprehensive literature search is the bedrock upon which you construct your study. 

Literature Review: Building a Cohesive Narrative from Searched Material

Following a literature search, the retrieved information is synthesized, evaluated, and presented organized and coherently in a literature review. This literature analysis places your proposed study within the context of previous research. The literature review also identifies gaps in knowledge that your study aims to address. An effective literature review is a testament to your profound understanding of the topic. Rather than merely summarizing studies, it presents a deep dive into the subject matter. 

By embracing both the literature search and literature review process, researchers can easily navigate the complexities of their chosen field. While a literature search paves the way for a study by identifying knowledge gaps and guiding research design, a literature review weaves a narrative that places the study within the context of previous research. Each step, therefore, serves as a vital cog in the wheel of academic research.

Supercharge Your Researching Ability With Otio — Try Otio for Free Today

Otio is an advance for knowledge workers, researchers, and students struggling with content overload. Their tools are fragmented and complex, from bookmarking to note-taking apps. But Otio changed the game by offering an AI-native workspace designed for researchers. 

It helps them collect from various sources, extract key takeaways with AI-generated notes, and create draft outputs quickly. Otio makes the transition from a reading list to a first draft smoother and faster. Additionally, Otio helps people write research papers and essays more quickly than ever. Let us delve into the features that make Otio a go-to tool for researchers. 

AI-Generated Notes on All Bookmarks

Otio makes research a breeze by generating detailed AI-powered notes on all bookmarks, whether they are YouTube videos, PDFs, articles, or other sources. These notes provide a concise summary and key takeaways crucial for your research.

Chat with Individual Links or Knowledge Bases

Imagine chatting with individual links or entire knowledge bases, just like you would with ChatGPT. Otio makes this possible by allowing you to discuss your sources, clarify doubts, and brainstorm within the platform.

AI-Assisted Writing

One of Otio's standout features is its AI-assisted writing functionality. This feature lets you write easily and provides real-time suggestions, corrections, and enhancements to your content. With Otio, you can expect to see your writing improve significantly.

Otio's Promise

Are you tired of managing numerous apps and tools for your research needs? Otio consolidates everything you need into one platform that streamlines your research and writing workflows. Otio is your all-in-one research and writing partner that leverages AI to boost your productivity. Give Otio a try and experience a new era in research and writing efficiency.

Related Reading

Best Reference Manager
Chatpdf Alternative
Ai Research Tools
Elicit AI
Consensus Ai
Sematic Scholar
Research Paper Writing App
Research Paper Reader
How Does Chatpdf Work
Scholarcy Alternative
• AI For Academic Research
• Literature Matrix Generator
• Research Tools
• Graduate School Reading
• AI For Summarizing Research Papers
• Zotero Vs Endnote
• Zotero Alternatives
• Best AI Tools For Research
• ChatGPT Literature Review
• Unriddle AI Alternatives
• Research Paper Organizer
• Mendeley Alternative
• ChatGPT For Research Papers
• How To Identify Theoretical Framework In An Article
• Sharly AI Alternatives
• Literature Review Tools

Join over 50,000 researchers changing the way they read & write

Join over 50,000 researchers changing the way they read & write

Join thousands of other scholars and researchers