Literature search for related work

When conducting a literature review on a given topic, your goal is to find all related work on this subject. This can seem daunting — there is lots of research out there! Fortunately, there are some tricks to making this process more manageable.

Seed your queue with general searches

For many people, the first and last search tool they’ll need is Google Scholar. Take advantage of its “Advanced Search” features, such as the source: keyword for limiting your searches to specific venues.

However, there are other search tools out there, such as CiteSeerX.

You can also try dblp. Its search is limited to titles (and authors and venues), so it’s less useful than search engines that also search abstracts and texts, but because it’s limited to “major computer science journals and proceedings,” it can be good if you’re feeling overwhelmed with results from other searche.

Many CS papers are published by the ACM and IEEE, which have their own venue-specific search engines: ACM Digital Library and IEEE Xplore.

Narrowing down your searches

It’s normal for literature review to turn up dozens of relevant papers. But if you have way more than that (e.g., hundreds), here are some suggestions for finding the ones to focus on.

Prioritize specific venues

Good research can be published anywhere, but there are certain venues that are more likely to contain relevant work in usable security and privacy.

These are also good places to check if you have the opposite problem from having too many papers: your keyword-based searches aren’t turning up any relevant work.

Human-computer interaction
Usable security

Consider citation counts

The number of citations are a flawed metric for evaluating research quality or significance, but they can be useful for finding some of the best-known papers you may need to cite. Highly-cited papers are also useful because you can see what other papers cite them (see below).

Which papers are worth citing?

It’s often impossible to cite every paper in existence on a particular topic.

  • My rule of thumb is that the more closely related a paper is, the more you need to cite it.
    • i.e., cite more of those papers — don’t skip them even if they seem similar to the others.
    • In the related work section, they merit a more in-depth description (e.g., what they did, what were the contributions). You’ll need to explain how your work is different.
  • In contrast, “further away” papers can be catalogued less exhaustively.
  • More important papers may be worth more attention
    • Importance can be gleaned from number of citations or publication venue, but importance is relative — it depends on a particular project and its research questions.