Conducting Literature Search for Grant Application

Literature Search is the lifeline of any grant proposal. It comprises sorting and sifting the history of past research and collecting useful and beneficial information.

Not too long ago, the literature was persevered and available in the form of physical books only. But now, the technology has replaced it with cloud data that is easily accessible via internet services and billions of gigabytes of literary information can be preserved in storage devices like USBs or hard drives. Today, you can pop into the literature cloud whenever you want with just a simple click of yours.

Let us come back to the grant proposal which contains a section called Literature Search. It is one of the key components of the application that add value and credibility to the application. However, before we learn how you can conduct the literature search, it is important to understand its significance.


Why is the Literature Search Important?

For any research topic, be it a college assignment or a crucial research proposal, one has to go through the research literature. This search is useful because it helps in:

Analyzing the Current Research Material Relevant to Your Topic

Once you have chosen a topic you are interested in; a literature search will help in determining the extent of material researched on it till the present.

Knowing the Experienced Authors in your Field of Topic

You will get to know the researchers whose works are popular in your field of topic. The author with the most cited articles is the one to choose for your research literature consultations. These writers are known for their knowledge and experience in the research area.

Deriving the Research Question Relating to Your Topic

Once you start going through the mammoth icebergs of literature, you will be able to find a few lapses in the knowledge available to the present. These are the strikethroughs for your research question generation. Pay attention to them and explore more about them.

Finding the Types of Study Designs Used in Previous Research

You will come across many kinds of research that are similar to yours, but the difference will be in the method of research design. With this knowledge, you can choose a study design that is different from all the past ones. It will provide you with knowledge about sample calculations and analysis types used until now (Sadaf & Patricia, 2010).

Getting a Strong Hold on Your Grant Application

As mentioned before, a literature search is the one on which your research question is dependent. The stronger your search, the more unique the research question it can derive, and therefore, the stronger will be the literature review foundation section of your research grant proposal.


In order to make your research strong, you need supporting references from previous literature along with their names and other specified credentials as per the rules of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is known as citing the authors and is an extremely important ethical code of conduct to follow.


Steps for conducting a Quality Literature Search

The literature search for a grant application is systematic research concerning your research question. You must gather all the pool of data you consulted for your topic and review it in your application for grant approval. The literature review is also known as the backbone of your research proposal. Following are the steps that will lead you to a great literature search:

  1. Decide a topic on which you plan to conduct research.
  2. Have prior know-how on the types of literature and decide which types will suit your topic of interest.
  3. Determine the sources of literature such as databases, newspapers, google scholar, recognized scientific magazines or library catalogs, etc.
  4. Identify the type of search method you want to utilize while searching.
  5. Write keywords that relate to your research topic exclusively, and separately note the words that you do not want in your searches. These can be used in setting restrictions.
  6. Keep records of all the related searches stored with you.
  7. Evaluate the records deeply and keep the closely relevant data stored with citations for your research application.


Types of Available Literature

You can choose from the variety of literature types categorized per level of consulted material. These are mainly:

Basic Literature

It is the purest form of literature that can be found. It contains unique analysis with research report evidence and is published in the most credible peer-reviewed journals (Anju, Hanish & Ira, 2016). Peer-reviewed journals are considered the most authentic ones. References to this type of primary literature in your grant application will make it further stronger for grant approval.

Derived Literature

It is that form of research that is derived from topics discussed in the basic literature or in other terms; it is the meta-analysis of primary articles. This type of literature is also known as secondary literature. Nowadays, researchers are mostly conducting meta-analyses because it is easier to perform with less time consumption.

Combination Literature

This is also called tertiary literature. In this, both primary and derived literature is used for the provision of information. Combination researches are detail-oriented research since it involves the reviewed data concerning a single topic but with an updated outcome


How to Access the Body of Literature

It is an important preliminary step to know about the major sources of literature for research conduction. These include:


Electronic databases contain a compilation of all the literature work carried out to date (Xiaochun & Cheng, 2016). The literature is stored both online and offline for quick data extraction purposes. Several literature databases are used widely for searching; these include PubMed, MedlinePlus, Embase & PsycInfo.

Peer-Reviewed Journals

These are the journals containing articles that have been published after acceptance from the experienced scholars of their editorial team. They provide quality literature as well.

Theses and Dissertations

These are research documents provided by academic students to their organizational institutes to prove their analytical capabilities on a certain topic.


They are the best-detailed forms of literature. The only problem with them is that they take time to get published, and by that time, more updated researches are already available. Yet, these are considered a handy form of literature.

Google Scholar

It provides a huge range of literature via its browser. You can use this along with the database research. This will help to gather data that have been missed by either of them. It contains some articles which are not allowed to be used for a free consultation.

Grey Literature

These are the unofficial research analyses, conference papers, and doctoral reports that originated from the government sectors.

Library Catalogs

Nearly all libraries have their reference catalogs to make it easy for researchers to get information about the articles or data present in the libraries. Online libraries are also available with their cloud library catalogs to consult from.


Methods of Conducting Literature Search

It includes manual (hand) searching in credible journals and electronic searching from databases. Hand searching helps in finding many articles that have not yet been updated on databases. So a combination of both hand and electronic searching will aid in extracting a larger and more relevant pool of information.


It is an exceptionally popular technique used by the majority of researchers. In this method, you pinpoint the relevant articles for your research consultation, and then you search the reference lists of these articles for further article search relevant to your topic.


This research is based on basic, expert academic consultations and by chance discoveries. These researches are credible researches with good material. Peer reviewers like and prefer this sort of research because they have minimal chances of plagiarism.


How You Should Search in a Database

Enter a database and go to its advanced search option. Here you can use the following filters and commands:

Boolean Operators

Commands like ‘and/not/or’ are termed as Boolean operators. These add relevance to your search by finding only the articles with your topic of interest (Joseph, 2004).

  • ‘And’ will further limit your research. For Example, Pain killers (analgesics) affect eyes and’ the teeth.
  • ‘Or’ will widen your search. For Example, analgesics affecting the eyes ‘or’ the teeth only.
  • ‘Not’ will diminish the irrelevant factor. For Example, analgesics affect the eyes ‘not’ the teeth.

These further distill your search by adding limiters such as date, language, abstract with the text, etc. You can also find an open access filter. This shows the full text of articles available. For limited access articles, you have to pay some money to open them, which can be expensive (Citrome, Moss & Graf, 2009).


Recording Data and References

Some databases like PubMed have a history option to keep tabs on all the material you have searched. Register your account for keeping records of all your research consultations besides storing them on hard drives or USBs. Recording references of collected data is crucial in every research administration. Referencing is done to:

  • Avoid the risk of plagiarism
  • Strengthen your argument about your proposed research
  • Follow a code of conduct to acknowledge someone else’s work
  • Enable the peer-reviewers to know clearly which author’s work you consulted


Problems While Conducting a Literature Search

Conducting a literature search for a grant application requires time and effort. You have to search, evaluate, and then review your gathered data before producing the correct material for your background literature section. Some commonly faced difficulties faced by researchers are:

Finding Too Much

At times you gather too much data on your topic, the evaluation of which is hard. For such research, try to use precise terms that are most relevant to your research question. Adding an expert authors filter will also do the trick.

Finding Too Little

Some topics are difficult to find. Try to widen your topic’s horizon by including some other factors. For example, you should not be age-specific like a study in ’10-14-year-old children’; you can type ‘children’ in general.



Conducting a literature search for a grant application helps in reviewing all the searched data records. Finding the most relevant information regarding your research question will serve as a strong foundation for your grant proposal. It is a time-taking process and can tire you a lot. You can do it only if you remain focused and do not get carried away with irrelevant material. Guidance from your senior researchers will help you a lot in this process. By following the basics given in this article, you will be able to ace this process without any confusion.


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  2. Grewal, A., Kataria, H. & Dhawan, I. (2016, September 15). Literature Search for Research Planning And Identification Of Research Problem. Indian Journal of Anaesthesia60(9), 635–639.
  3. Qiu, X. & Wang, C. (2016). Literature Searches in the Conduct of Systematic Reviews and Evaluations. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry28(3), 154–159.
  4. Rau, JL. (2004, October). Selecting the Literature and Searching the Right References. Respiratory Care, 49(10), 1042–1045.
  5. Citrome, L., Moss, SV. & Graf, C. (2009, November). How to Search and Harvest the Medical Literature: Let the Citations Come to You, and How to Proceed When They Do. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 63(11), 1565-1570.
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