It is assumed that all research will include some type of literature review which will require you to be able to search the literature effectively.
So, what does the information landscape look like? We’ll start with books. This could be specialist monographs, reference books, text books for providing an overview of your subject or methods, or perhaps books such as novels and plays are the focus of your research. Journals- high quality, peer-reviewed academic journals will be key to your literature search. However, you should also consider professional and populist journals which may be appropriate for your subject. Many databases also index such journals. Conference proceedings can be a good way to find out about new developments in your field. There is a much quicker turnaround with publishing conference proceedings and academics are often presenting their most current ideas or work in progress. Databases such as Web of Science index conference proceedings. Of course the Internet can be a good source of information. Using advanced search options on Google will help you filter and can take you directly to company and government information. Don’t forget about social media- it can be a useful tool for sharing and alerting you to new developments in research. Some subjects will rely heavily on reports and on specialist data. We can help you locate this information and understand how to reference it in your work. Finally, people! This information source is often overlooked, but the recommendations of your supervisors and peers can be crucial to starting and expanding your literature search.
Why is literature searching important to you? There is a vast amount of information published every day and a literature search helps you to identify the information most relevant to your research. It is important to locate your work in a wider academic context and acknowledge any existing research that has shaped your own research. You need to ensure your work is original and identifies a gap in the previous research. You will be developing critical practices as you search and read the literature. It may also help you identify methodological approaches to use in your own research. You research topic is likely to change and be refined by the ideas you encounter in existing publications.
You need to be aware of previous research so that in your probation review, thesis and viva you can defend your work. As well as being able to explain why you chose to use certain methods, theories etc., you must also be aware of the methods and theories you discounted. Literature searching also helps you keep up to date with the latest research publications in your field. Even as you put the finishing touches to your thesis you still need to be aware of any new research coming out in case it is raised in your viva.
The type of literature review you are undertaking will affect the way you search. For example, if you are doing a critical review that aims to look extensively at the literature then you may need to search a wide range of publication types and years. If you are doing a literature review to identify the current and recent literature in your field you may only be interested, for example, in the last five years of publications. If you are specifically trying to identify methodologies to use in your research then you may need to search publications outside your discipline. A systematic review is a specific type of research project that requires you to identify all studies that match the criteria for your research question. If you would like advice on search techniques to use for a systematic review then please contact the Library Research Services Team. You may need to undertake a combination of literature reviews. Your supervisor will be able to advise you on the type of literature review most useful to your research.
Keyword searching is the most common search strategy used. This involves searching on keywords or key phrases from your research question. You would also need to take into account alternative spelling, synonyms and acronyms. There are also search tricks you can use such as using truncation, wildcards and limits. For more information see our section on keyword searching at (link).
You may also want to search for publications by particular researchers by doing an author search. A lot of literature databases allow you to search specifically in the author field and would expect you to search using the surname then the first name (as shown in the slide). Remember that you might also want to search on different versions of an author’s name. If the author has a common name then you might want to combine an author search with a keyword search.
Particularly when you are starting on a new research area it’s important to follow up recommended reading from your supervisor or colleagues. You may also find useful reading material via attending conferences or networking with fellow researchers in person or online.
Browsing will not be your main search strategy, but can be a helpful supplementary strategy as you can find unexpected items. Depending on your research area you might want to browse the shelves or look through the table of contents of recommended journal in your area.
Once you find articles that are key to your research then you will also want to check the references they have used and cited. It’s important that as a researcher you follow up on key references and make sure you have read the original article, book or study where possible.
Many of the literature databases allow you to set-up search alerts that will tell you when a new item is added that matches your search terms. It’s a useful way of keeping up to date with new research as it is published. We provide further training on search alerts in our ‘Making research information come to you’ session.
Citation searching allows you to find out who has cited or referenced an article since it was published. It’s a specialist type of search that is available via Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar.
Before you start to search for information, try and break your thesis title into its keywords or concepts. These are the main ideas that make up your topic and will form the basis of your search. You now need to think of other ways your key concepts can be expressed
When you are researching, you are looking for information that has been written by other people and not everyone will use the same words to describe the same concept. For example: an author may use the term ‘adolescent’ instead of ‘teenager’. You therefore need to think of other ways your key concepts can be expressed
Try writing a similar list for your research concepts. Don’t forget to include synonyms, broader and narrower terms, plurals, UK/US spelling differences, abbreviations, acronyms.
Some people prefer to draw a mind map to think of alternative keywords. Get a piece of paper and write your keyword in the middle Use the diagram below to help explore alternatives for your keyword Repeat this exercise for your main keywords
Now we have thought of some keywords we can combine them using the connecting words AND, OR or NOT (often called boolean operators). This will help you widen or narrow your searches.
The table below provides a summary of how each boolean operator is used. Click through the next three screens to see in more detail how using boolean can help you.
Use AND to combine your different concepts. This will narrow your search Use OR to combine your alternative keywords. This will broaden your search Use NOT to exclude words. It will narrow your search but use with caution as you may accidentally exclude useful material
Quick reminder on search tips? More things to try- either on the library catalogue or databases
Battle- battlement, battleground
Worksheet via http://www2.le.ac.uk/library/downloads/planning-your-literature-search
Sections 1-5 on the worksheet.
Choosing where to search
There are several ways of finding appropriate databases to search. Look at the ‘My Subject’ pages on the library website, get recommendations from your supervisor and colleagues, and check the more information pages for a database on the library website to see what it covers. If you’re not sure if a database is suitable for your subject try a trial search. Database names can be misleading, for example, Web of Science also covers arts, humanities and social science. Use the specialist resources available through the library, but don’t forget to use suitable free resources on the web as well.
Complete section 6 on the worksheet.
You will need to search several databases or resources, as although you will get some duplication of results, you will also find different results. Each database indexes a slightly different set of publications. No one database will cover all the literature available. No literature review is 100% authoritative due to the amount of research being published in various formats. However, systematic reviews aim to be as authoritative as possible within the defined scope of the review. We recommend searching at least three to five quality resources. You might also find it useful to look at previous theses for guidance.
We recommend starting your literature search as soon as possible to give you time to try out your search strategy and get hold of materials.
It’s a good idea to keep records of when and where you searched, and the words you used, as you’ll probably need to repeat the search at a later date. You can also set-up search alerts to help you keep up to date with new publications.
Develop a system to keep track of the references you have found and read, so that you can cite them when you are writing up. Use whatever system works for you, whether that’s emailing the references to yourself, keeping them in a word document or using bibliographic software such as RefWorks or EndNote.
As your research develops you will need to assess and modify your search strategy to take account of new directions, interests or developments.
The library might not have access to everything you need to read for your research, so remember to use our document supply service, or the schemes that let you join, and use, other University libraries.
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Planning your literature search
as it relates to your
elements of an
Plan your search
relevant to your
how does it look to you?
• Discuss the types of publications you will
be reading & using for your thesis - think
of at least 4 different formats
• Which are the most important
dissemination and publication methods
for research in your subject area?
Reference books Text books
Monographs Novels & Plays
Company information Government information
Individuals Social media: Blogs, Twitter
Case Law Legislation
how do you search?
In pairs discuss:
How you currently search for information?
Do you think you are a successful searcher?
yes / no – why?
The type of literature review you
undertake will affect the way you
Wide range of
common search strategy
Jeffreys, Alec John
Jeffreys, Alec J
Jeffreys, A J
Find a good
Where to start
Example thesis title:
Discuss the extent to which violence on television affects teenagers
What do you think the key concepts are ?
There are three key concepts:
1. Violence 2.Television 3.Teenagers
Violence Television Teenagers
AND To combine your different concepts.
OR To combine your alternative
NOT To exclude words.
Use speech marks to search on a
spelling and truncation
Wildcard symbols (?*) to find
British and American spellings.
Battle* will find
Truncation symbols (! * $ ?) to find
different word endings.
complete activity 2 on the worksheet
What is your
Generate a list
of key concepts
How will you
Library All Search COPAC
Full text databases Google Books
Library All Search Google Scholar
Subject specific databases
Library All Search Subject specific databases
Web of Knowledge/Scopus
Nexis/Factiva Specific newspapers
British Library (Digital archives)
Archives Hub Specific archive catalogues
Google Box of Broadcasts
How to select databases to search…
how to choose
My Subject pages
How Many Databases are Enough?
3-5 quality resources
Use completed theses
to help your search
• Start early
• Keep records
• Modify your search strategy
T: 0116 252 2018
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