The skills you need
When you start to research an assignment you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information which is available or you may not find very much at all.
Developing your search skills will help you find and select quality information.
In this section, you will learn:
- How to identify the key concepts of a topic.
- To develop your list of keywords.
- How you can search more effectively.
A printable guide is also available 'Quick Guide to Database Searching'.
Your choice of terms (keywords) will affect the number of documents you find. If you search for car and journal article you want uses the word vehicle you will not find it.
So keywords matter. You need to think about terminology and this includes synonyms – (words that mean the same thing).
Another way of saying the same thing
Use this exercise to think about alternative ways of describing the same 'word'.
Combining your keywords
Graphic illustration of the use of the 'AND' boolean operator.
Search strategy checklist
As you are searching for information you will be constantly evaluating and reviewing both the quality and quantity of your literature search results. Check constantly that the information you find meets your needs. If not, revise and refine your search strategies.
- Identified the key concepts?
- Determined all relevant keywords to use as search terms?
- Considered using truncation or wildcards to expand search terms?
- Considered using phrase searching, Near or With, or nesting?
- Determined the relationships between search terms (AND, OR or NOT)?
- Formulated effective search strategies?
When identifying and searching information sources, have you;
- Selected appropriate information sources such as library catalogues, databases and journals, citation indexes and the Internet?
- Kept your searching up-to-date by using current awareness and alerting services?
- Cited information using the correct referencing style?
- Managed your information in a systematic way?
Terminology and Database Controlled Vocabulary
When you have done your first search you can click on the title of a relevant article to see how the article has been indexed. These terms are chosen from a restricted list (controlled vocabulary).
This may give you more ideas of keywords you can use to search.
The scope states the limitations of your research, that is, its focus, and what will be considered (and what will be excluded) to avoid generalising beyond these limits.
For example, only a certain time period, or subject area or region or type of sample with its unit of analyses, such as policy, programmes, behaviours, etc.
To conduct your search and maintain focus you can make use of citation mapping which allows you to trace other journal articles starting from one journal article. You can find all the journal articles cited by the authors in the journal article (that is in the reference list), but also all journals articles which have since cited the article in their reference list.
See Citation searching within this section for more information.
Citation searching identifies who has subsequently cited a known article (that is, more recent than this known article).
A presentation on citation mapping and snowballing will show you how one journal article can lead you to many other relevant articles and materials.
Databases which allow citation searching include
Sources you need
Search simultaneously for journal articles by their titles and books and more using Library search
It gives access to 85% of the subscription databases UWE Library Services subscribes to and all of the eBooks. It will supply information about where to find print items from books to print journal titles. You can check to see whether your favourite database is included in Library search.
Access the video ‘What's Library search?’ to get an introduction to this service.
Subject specific databases
Library search does not cover all the databases we subscribe to. You can search many specific databases individually for your subject. See the "Databases: by subject" or "Databases: A-Z" library web pages.
What is Google Scholar?
- allows you to search for articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.
- allows you to search for abstracts and will give you access to the full text articles when available (i.e. if the document is freely available on the web or if UWE has access to this specific document through our subscriptions).
- displays the number of times an article has been cited.
You will not be able to access the full text of everything you find.
How it works?
The results are filtered and exclude some content (for example Wikipedia) or other web sites information that your tutor is unlikely to want to see in your references.
It remains your responsibility to evaluate your sources.
See the 'Evaluating information' section of the iSkillZone.
Google Scholar has limitations. Don't ignore them!
- Google Scholar searches the open web. It does not search everything and there are many resources which Google doesn't have access to but it will still be essential for your study.
- It is not clear how Google Scholar ranks its results. It does not seem to rank them by relevancy, or by date. You will need to modify your search to narrow down the thousands of results found by Google Scholar.
- Like many other databases, you can set up your preferences. See section below.
Setting up your preferences (UWE, Refworks)
To make the best use of Google Scholar, set your preferences on your PC or laptop.
- Click on the Scholar preferences link (top right corner of the screen).
- Go the Library links section.
- If UWE is not visible, type in the search box "University of the West of England". Once found, you can tick the box next to the name of the University underneath the search box.
- If you are a RefWorks user, go now to the "Bibliographic Manager" section (the last one).
- Under "Show links to import citations" open the drop down menu and select Refworks.
- Click on Save preferences (bottom right of the screen).
Further help on Google Scholar is available.
Searching Google Scholar effectively.
Searching Google Scholar requires the same skills as searching any other resources. The key thing to do before starting any search is to think about the keywords..
The Advanced Scholar Search allows you to search for words in a specific part of the reference. For example, author and/or title.
Google Scholar does not have access to all the databases in which journals articles are indexed and/or published.
Solution: use the paid subscription databases within Library search which UWE Library Services pay for.
The way Google Scholar ranks its search results is obscure. This means that the best results might not be on the first page.
Solution: look at the other results pages, but if too many, narrow down your search by adding a keyword or two into your search.
Note: You should not limit yourself to one resource (such as just Google Scholar), but use all the relevant resources that are available to you.
See the UWE Library Services Resources for your subject for more information.
Refine your search
Your first search attempt may produce a huge number of items when you use Library search. You should refine your search by including more keywords and/or excluding others, or choose only certain types of information (formats), and/or specify dates, such as only the most up to date information.
You should always evaluate what information you have found.
The whole search process is iterative, that is, you should refine your search until you find enough authoritative information defined by the scope of your literature review.