A literature search can be carried out in different ways. The decisive factor in scientific research is a systematic approach.


The aim is to record the state of research and/or technology in order to gain two insights:

  • An overview of the subject area and
  • Finding one or more "gaps" in the subject area.

Note: The procedure must be comprehensible!

This means not only naming the underlying sources but also describing the procedure in detail. It is helpful to be clear when writing it down, can a person who has never had anything to do with the work do the literature research with the description and come to the same results?


What are the Sources of Error?

Frequently the mention of the following aspects is missing:

  • Searched databases,
  • Used keywords,
  • Limitations (in time, in the number of sources searched),
  • Selection of relevant literature and
  • Number of sources found.

Note: The selection of relevant literature is made by a method, not by "because I thought it was relevant" or "my supervisor told me about it." A selection based on I criteria is not of general importance. Statements such as "to create an understanding of the domain" or "for an exploratory overview" are better.

How Do I Select the Right Database(s) for My Literature Search?

Databases usually cover larger subject areas and specialist fields. The database to be queried must be selected in such a way that the result can always be traced. Example: The database Google delivers different results at different times. Instead, a database with scientific articles that are from the subject area is recommended. For example, the topic of the paper is: "Digital Transformation". Then it is expected to find suitable hits in the field of computer science or economics.

How Do I Proceed?

The literature is indifferent to the procedure of a literature search in the individual steps. On the other hand, there is consensus in the way - it is done according to a fixed system. Otherwise, a literature search must be adapted to the context. At the beginning it is necessary to read and read some more and then to prepare the mountain of information from the literature jungle (s. Figure1) so that the researcher and the readership are able to draw conclusions from it.

Literature Djungle
Figure 1: Literatur-Djungle

The most important ones for the context of business informatics are: Webster and Watson (2002), Fettke (2006), and Brocke et al (2009).

Vom Brocke et al. (2009) propose five steps that build on each other:

  1. Definition of the search space,
  2. Conceptualization of the theme,
  3. Literature search,
  4. Literature analysis and synthesis, and
  5. Research Agenda.

The structure is systematic and clear, so that the argumentation is comprehensible for a third party. For a more comprehensible picture, it is advisable to carry out the steps with methods that are available in the literature. Vom Brocke et al. (2009) suggest to perform the conceptualization for example with the taxonomy of Cooper (1988). Cooper (1988) divides the search into six characteristics to be described in more detail:

  1. Focus,
  2. Target,
  3. Perspective,
  4. Scope,
  5. Structure and
  6. Target group.

We divide the expressions into categories. The researcher uses arguments to decide which categories to examine in more detail in the paper. Table 1 shows the division according to Cooper (1988).





Research Outcomes

Research Methods


Practices or Application





Central Issues



Neutral Representation

Espousal of Position




Exhaustive Selective










Specialized Researcher

General Researcher


General Public

Table 1: Taxonomy according to Cooper (1988)

Steps iii and iv can be based on Webster and Watson (2002) or Fettke (2006).

Step v reflects the research gaps found in the literature. A research gap is a new interest in knowledge to be achieved that has not been explained so far. It makes sense to look for differences and similarities in the texts. For example, differences indicate a research gap, as practice uses visual feedback, while acoustic feedback was identified as significantly better in research. Thus, the following question arises: Why does practice not use acoustic feedback?

How Does the Search in Information Systems Work?

A guide for searching the Basket of Eight can be found under AIS - "Basket of Eight".

The found literature is examined for relevance (see Ranking and Impact in Information Systems) to the topic. Mostly by means of coding. This is followed by a forward and backward search. Finally, a concept matrix is created from which further findings are obtained and put up for discussion.

How Can Scientific Articles Be Found with Google?

Find scientific articles with Google - is essential for a thesis. After all, articles from practical experience often lack the sources and the necessary scientific discourse.


  • Quick overview
  • Scholar.Google is constantly extended
  • Citation counts cover more than controlled databases


  • Partially missing crucial articles
  • Traceability less because of expanding and changing order of articles
  • No data download
  • Lack of quality control and indexing guidelines

In summary, a Scholar.Goolge search is useful for a quick overview. For a systematic literature search databases like EBSCO or Scopus are suitable.

Further book about Literature Research

Core literature

  • Webster, J.; Watson, R.T. (2002): Analyzing the Past to Prepare for the Future: Writing a Literature Review. In: MIS Quarterly, Vol. 26 (2002) No. 2, pp. xiii-xxiii.
  • Cooper, H.M. (1988): Organizing Knowledge Syntheses: A Taxonomy of Literature Reviews. In: Knowledge in Society, Vol. 1 (1988) No. 1, pp. 104-126.
  • Brocke, J.; Simons, A.; Niehaves, B.; Riemer, K.; Plattfaut, R.; Cleven, A. (2009): Reconstructing the Giant: On the Importance of Rigour in Documenting the Literature Search Process. In: Proceedings of the 17th European Conference on Information Systems. Eds.  2009, pp. 2206–2217.
  • Fettke, P. (2006): State-of-the-Art des State-of-the-Art. In: Wirtschaftsinformatik, Vol. 48 (2006) No. 4, pp. 257-266.

Further literature

  • Torraco, R.J. (2005): Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples. In: Human Resource Development Review, Vol. 4 (2005) No. 3, pp. 356-367.
  • Okoli, C.; Schabram, K. (2010): A Guide to Conducting a Systematic Literature Review of Information Systems Research. In: Sprouts - Working Papers on Information Systems, Vol. 10 (2010) No. 26.
  • Onwuegbuzie, A.J.; Leech, N.L.; Collins, K.M. (2012): Qualitative Analysis Techniques for the Review of the Literature. In: Qualitative Report, Vol. 17 (2012), pp. 56.
  • Asher, A. D.; Duke, L. M.; Wilson, S. (2013): Paths of discovery: Comparing the search effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and conventional library resources. College & Research Libraries,  Vol. 74 (2013) No. 5pp. 464-488.
  • Halevi, G.; Moed, H.; Bar-Ilan, J. (2017): Suitability of Google Scholar as a source of scientific information and as a source of data for scientific evaluation – Review of the Literature. Journal of Infometrics, Vol. 11 (2017), pp. 823-834.
  • Dewan, P. (2012): Making the Most of Google Scholar in Academic Libraries. Feliciter (CLA), Vol. 58 (2012) No. 6, pp. 41-42.


We use cookies

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.