Skip to Main Content

Literature Searches and Literature Reviews: Getting Started

What's in This Guide

Getting Started

Definitions, featured resources and related guides.

Literature Searches

A step-by-step guide and links to key search resources.

Literature Reviews

A step-by-step guide and links to key search resources.

Resources: Where to Search

An extensive list of bibliographic databases, research databases, websites and other resources.

Related Resource Guides

Literature searches and literature reviews are key components of research projects sponsored by state departments of transportation. A literature search seeks to confirm what is known about a particular topic, and a literature review uses the literature search to help to clarify the scope of the research project. This resource guide addresses:

  • How to conduct literature searches.
  • Where to search for transportation information.
  • How to put it all together as a quality literature review.

The guide is adapted from Transportation Research E-Circular 194: Literature Searches and Literature Reviews for Transportation Research Projects (2015). For a more detailed discussion, review the literature search and literature review sections of the e-circular.

Practical Tips

  • When conducting a literature search, keep in mind that information is available in numerous places. While running a search on Google may be a useful place to start, a wealth of additional resources, including databases, search engines, websites and catalogs, will provide valuable contributions to a thorough search effort.
  • Remember to contact your librarian during the search. A librarian can help to identify databases and catalogs, and can often locate documents that aren't available online or in your library. 


Literature search — a series of searches across multiple resources that produces a list of citations which are relevant to a topic or subject matter. The results are compiled and structured to help a researcher understand the scope, breadth and relevance of the literature on a topic.

►  Example: Micro-Rail Exploration Study, California Department of Transportation, March 2021.

Literature review — a narrative that is based on the findings of a literature search. The narrative is organized by topic, drawing connections among citations and presenting cited works according to their importance and relevance.

►  Example: Snow Removal at Extreme Temperatures, Clear Roads Pooled Fund, Minnesota Department of Transportation, March 2013. 

About the Pooled Fund

Transportation Research and Connectivity logoThe Transportation Research and Connectivity pooled fund study, TPF-5(442), is a consortium of state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other partners that supports the coordinated development of transportation libraries as well as research organizations without dedicated libraries. Study focus areas include communication and networking, digitization, research report accessibility, and developing online resource guides and a toolkit for non-librarians.

Authors and Contributors

This Resource Guide was prepared by CTC & Associates LLC for the Transportation Research and Connectivity pooled fund study, TPF-5(442), under the guidance of the following members of the study's technical advisory committee:

This guide is a living document that is intended to be revised and updated to incorporate new resources. To suggest a resource for inclusion, please contact one of the committee members listed above.

Publication date: September 2021.