Literature Search Tutorial

In this brief tutorial will introduce you to some tools and techniques for conducting literature searches.

The University of Toronto provides a powerful tool called Refworks that can do everything that will be discussed in this tutorial; however, this tutorial will focus on a set of free tools, which are easier to use. The only requirement is that you are using Firefox as your web browser. Not using Firefox? Well go download it, it's free too! Still don't want to use Firefox? That's okay, there is a section of this tutorial that will show you how to construct bibliographies without it.


The first step involves installing Zotero, a research tool that will keep track of all the information you generate as you conduct your literature search.

1. Go to the Zotero site and install the Zotero firefox extension (click the big red download button).

There are two problems you may encounter.

The first is that Firefox by default will most likely not allow you to install an extension from the domain A yellow bar will appear at the top of your browser window with a message stating something something to this effect. Click on the "edit options" button in the yellow bar. This will open up the "Allowed Sites" dialog. It should already have filled in. Simply click allow and try downloading the extension again.

The second issue that I encountered after allowing the zotero domain, is that on the University of Toronto lab machines, simply clicking on the extension to download does not trigger the extension to be installed. If nothing is happening when you click the download button, then try the following: Right click the download button and select "save link as"; download the extension (should be an xpi file) to your desktop; once the download is complete simple drag the xpi file onto an open Firefox window.

After Firefox has installed Zotero and restarted, you should see the word "Zotero" in the righthand side of the status bar (at the bottom of the screen). It should look like this:

2. Click on this Zotero button in the status bar.

Clicking on the Zotero button will bring up a window that will show your current library. This is where all your bibliographic information will be stored. Feel free to play around with the Zotero interface a bit before proceeding to the next section. There is a great introductory video currently being hosted on the Zotero site that walks through some of the features of Zotero.


The following is just a selection of the many search engines available for scholarly articles. Keep in mind that each search engine has a particular focus and has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

General Topics

A good starting point. Google indexes a wide range of articles and uses the number of citations an article has received in the relevance ranking. Some weak points of Google Scholar are the following: these articles may not be from peer reviewed publications, the bibliographic information for the articles returned may be incomplete, and there may be no way to access the full text of the article.

Another good starting point, but like Google Scholar, results contain many non-peer-reviewed articles. CiteSeer results contain a lot of great metadata based on citation. For example: similar papers based on co-citation and a graph of citations by year.

Indexed about a hundred journals in a variety of disciplines. There is less content than Google Scholar, however, the quality is higher, since JStor only indexes refereed publications. Also, search results do not include the number of citations an article has received.

Microsoft's Live Search Academic has a very slick interface and provides lots of bibliographic information, however, this information is not presented in a format that Zotero and other research tools can process, which means you will have to add article information by hand.

Computer Science

The Association for Computing Machinery has a search engine which indexes close to a million computer science articles.

Searches all IEEE journals, of which, there are many that cover computer science topics.

Other Subdisplines

The above link will let you select a subdiscipline to search. From aboriginal studies to zoology, there is alot covered here, however, you may find the search interface slow and clunky.

Using Zotero
When looking at the results of most academic search engines, you should see a little icon at the end of the location bar that looks something like the following:

3. Try some searches until you find some relevant results

4. Click on the icon in the location bar and store the relevant results to Zotero

You should now be able to open up the Zotero library and see the articles that you stored. Notice that all of the bibliographic information should have been added automatically!


CiteULike is a social booking marking site with a twist: it was built for bookmarking and sharing academic papers.

I have created an account at CiteULike for the class.
The login name is: csc290
The password is: csc290

You can view the library of already added articles by using the following url:

For the last part of this tutorial you are going to add all of the articles in your Zotero libary to CiteULike so that you can easily share them with your colleagues.

5. Open Zotero,click on the icon and export your library using the bibtex format. Remember where you saved the file!

6. Log in to CiteUlike here using your username and password.

7. On the left menu bar, click the Import from bibtex, follow the instructions and where it says tags make sure to use some tags which describe your subtopic.

Now, you should be able to navigate to your CiteULike library and see that your entire Zotero bibliography has been added.

Article information can also be directly added to CiteULike (in a similar manner to Zotero) by using a bookmark with javascript. You can find instructions for adding the bookmark to your browser here. The advantage to using only CiteULike is that the bookmark can be installed in most browsers, so you are not limited to Firefox.