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Course & Subject Guides

Writing a Research Proposal @ Pitt: Literature Review

This guide is designed to assist students or those with limited experience in writing a research proposal for scientific research.


For researching your proposal your best resources will be the research article databases focused on your subject area. Find a specific database by its title or look at a list of databases for a particular subject area.

Search Engines

Search engines search broadly across the web. Remember that links to full text will only work if the article is freely available or if the ULS subscribes to the article and you are searching through the Pitt network or have been authenticated through Pitt Passport.

Why do a literature review?

A thorough review of the relevant literature is an important part of your preparation for writing a proposal. It plays several critical roles.

  • Don't reinvent the wheel. You won't get credit for proposing work that has already been reported.
  • Develop the context of your research. Show how your work grows from or relates to work that has already been done.
  • Establish the significance of your research. Show how your work will fill a gap or push forward research in a new direction.
  • Refine your idea and approach. Gain new ideas or clarify your thinking about what you need to do or how best to do it.
  • Identify the literature you will cite. You must cite the key sources used in developing your proposal.

The links on this page can help you find resources for doing your literature search.


undefined PittCat is the main searching tool for all of the materials owned by the University Library System (ULS), including articles, books, ebooks, journal articles, ejournals, audio and video, digital images, government documents, microfilm and movies.

Searching PittCat

Signing into PittCat gives you access to the most results. The sign in option is in the upper right hand corner of your screen. 

To begin a search, enter a term in the “search anything” box. You can select Books, Articles, and More to search for items across the entire library system including journal articles, images, ebooks, and more. Use the Library Catalog option to search for items available both electronically and physically in our libraries such as books, videos, music scores and more. The Course Reserves option will help you find materials put on reserve by instructors for a specific course.

The Results Screen shows you a list of items with basic information--click on a title to get a more detailed overview of the item you’ve selected. This detailed view gives you much more information about the item. You can see where the item is located and ways to email or print the record as well as how to cite. You may also see an abstract for the item or a table of contents if available.

You can Refine Your Results by using the menu on the left. If you only want a physical copy of the book pick “library holdings” or if you want an electronic copy of a book, choose e-book.

If Full-Text Content is available, you can get the full-text by clicking on the item title or the "available online" link.

You can add Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) into the Simple Search (the default search box) by adding them in all caps.

PittCat Basic Search