The Literature Search and the Literature Survey

The objective of your literature search is to find as much of the relevant and available material on your topic as possible, while the literature survey will evaluate the usefulness of the material in the context of your research question. This guide assumes that you are already familiar with the process of finding primary and secondary materials in the library and online. If you need a refresher, seek the assistance of a librarian or use the online resources available on the University Library website.

Do not get obsessed with information gathering at the expense of evaluation and critical thought. If you collect material electronically—and most of us now do this at least to some extent—, then take care to distinguish your own notes from other people’s material. This can be a source of ‘accidental’ plagiarism. The key to a good literature survey is to make notes on the significance of material you read for responding to your research question. You may find certain key materials, some peripheral materials, and some material to discard as not relevant to your enquiry.

THE CARS CHECKLISTliterature search

The CARS Checklist is designed for ease of learning and use:

• Credibility

• Accuracy 

• Reasonableness 

• Support 

Credibility – trustworthy source, author’s credentials, evidence of quality control, known or respected authority, organizational support.

Goal: an authoritative source, a source that supplies some good evidence that allows you to trust it.

Accuracy –  up to date, factual, detailed, exact, comprehensive, audience and purpose reflect intentions of completeness and accuracy.

Goal: a source that is correct today (not yesterday), a source that gives the whole truth.

Reasonableness – fair, balanced, objective, reasoned, no conflict of interest, absence of fallacies or slanted tone.

Goal: a source that engages the subject thoughtfully and reasonably, concerned with the truth.

Support – listed sources, contact information, available corroboration, claims supported, documentation supplied.

Goal: a source that provides convincing evidence for the claims made, a source you can triangulate (find at least two other sources that support it).


Preparing a bibliography is different from preparing a literature survey. Even if you choose not to undertake a literature survey, you will need to build a bibliography.

Preparing the bibliography is simply recording the material you consider to be relevant to your topic in a formal way. You should record using the OSCOLA citation conventions all the materials you have read or plan to read as your research preparation for writing the paper.

Keep different materials in separate lists. So you will build up a list of primary sources, of books, official reports, chapters in books, articles in journals, of research reports, and of websites visited.

The more care you take to list these under appropriate headings, the more likely you are to be able to find them later. A good bibliography which builds throughout the process of researching and writing, is an invaluable aid to consistent and accurate referencing in the paper you will write.