Which problem, theory or evidence justifies your research?

A thorough look at the literature relevant to your project or research question is always recommended. A scoping search of the literature, with help of trained librarians/information specialists is a natural starting point, ideally even at the stage of project development or grant writing.(1)

A scoping search or (systematic) literature review sheds light on what is (un)known about a topic and may also be used to formulate better theory or research hypotheses. This is helpful to avoid research waste: (unnecessary) repetition of research.(2) Of course some repetition can be very useful (replication studies).(3, 4) Previous research may also highlight smart methodology that you may want to copy or pitfalls to avoid. Reading up on the literature of your research question (especially in the its historical order) can be a rewarding experience as long as your funder or supervisor is not heeding you to start collecting data as soon as possible 😉.

Searching the literature can be tricky. There are dozens of different outlets and Google Scholar will not catch all, nor are Google Scholar searches reproducible. Meticulous searches may include searching open science platforms, (trial) registries, web of science, Cochrane Library, Scopus, preprint servers, grey literature etc etc.(5) A research librarian can help you create a fitting search strategy for each bibliography or platform. New search engines emerge all the time and keeping up with their performances (for specific topics) is a daunting task even for dedicated professionals. For example, recently Dimension.ai and lens.org were launched.

Research librarians can also support your literature research by retrieving articles from other libraries if not available via the library website, and advise about literature research tools, for example appraisal checklists or referencing programs such as for Mendeley or Zotero.


  1. Peters MDJ, Marnie C, Tricco AC, Pollock D, Munn Z, Alexander L, et al. Updated methodological guidance for the conduct of scoping reviews. JBI Evidence Implementation. 2021;19(1):3-10.
  2. Chalmers I, Bracken MB, Djulbegovic B, Garattini S, Grant J, Gülmezoglu AM, et al. How to increase value and reduce waste when research priorities are set. Lancet. 2014;383(9912):156-65.
  3. Bouter LM, Riet Ter G. Empirical research must be replicated before its findings can be trusted. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 2021;129:188-90.
  4. Nosek BA, Errington TM. What is replication? PLOS Biology. 2020;18(3):e3000691.
  5. Malički M, Jerončić A, Riet Ter G, Bouter LM, Ioannidis JPA, Goodman SN, et al. Preprint Servers’ Policies, Submission Requirements, and Transparency in Reporting and Research Integrity Recommendations. JAMA. 2020;324(18):1901-3.
  6. https://maken.wikiwijs.nl/154915/Zoeklicht_Gevorderd#!page-5723891
Published by  Urban Vitality 3 March 2023