Online Literature Searching
A literature search is an organised search for material on a subject topic. This usually involves using a database that contains quality academic sources. Databases enable you to search multiple journals and other sources, and enable you to gather a list of references, some of which may be available in full text. These references can often be saved, printed, emailed, or exported to bibliographic software.
There are several steps to performing an effective literature search:
1. Decide on a search topic
Formulate a question or hypothesis to define the topic.
For example, if you are interested in finding out about the impact of smoking on children with asthma, you might ask the question "What are the effects of passive smoking on children with asthma"
2. Consider the keywords to use while searching
Identify the main keywords. In the above example the main keywords are highlighted, passive smoking, children, asthma.
Also remember to think about:
- Using broader and narrower terms e.g. smoking, cigarette smoke, nicotine,
- Using synonyms - these are different words with the same meaning e.g. passive smoking or tobacco or cigarettes not all words have these but if they do they should be included in your list of keywords.
- Use dictionaries to check spelling and find alternative keywords (synonyms)
- Using acronyms - this is where your keywords can be condensed into a set of capital letters e.g. VAT or Value Added Tax - use both the full term and the acronym when searching
- Be aware of alternative spellings - remember to try UK and US spellings for example: labour or labor
- Be aware of possible changes of place name, for example: Peking to Beijing
- To find background information consult: encyclopaedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, textbooks
3. Select a Database
4. Perform Search
- Use Boolean operators (AND, OR or NOT) to combine search terms. These operators will always need to be entered in upper case when searching.
- Use Truncation. A truncation character allows you to broaden your search by retrieving varying endings of your search term e.g Child* will retrieve articles that include the word child, children, childcare, children's, childhood.
- Use Wildcards. Substitute a wildcard symbol for letter(s) in a word. For example organi?ation will find organisation or organization. Wildcards are very useful in dealing with spelling variations.Remember symbols used may vary between the different databases, always check the individual database Help section.
- Use Phrase searching. This allows you to use a string of words instead of a single one. Many databases allow you to search for an exact phrase such as duty of care. However, some databases will require you to use inverted commas while other will require the use of brackets e.g. "duty of care". Check the Help section of the database.
- Change where your keywords are to be retrieved from by using database tools such as search in Abstract, Title, Author and so on.
5. Evaluate results & refine search
Select only relevant references. Check:
- Language (will you be able to read the original article?)
- Source (is it from a peer-reviewed journal or is it from a trade journal?)
- Identify the source material - is it a book, article, letter, thesis, patent etc.?
6. Find out the availability of items at Surrey
While some databases contain full text articles others will require you to use the reference provided to search for the item elsewhere. You will need to check: Is the item available from the Library?
To do this, you can:
Search the Library Catalogue for printed and electronic items.
Search the Electronic journals catalogue Ejournals@Surrey to see if a journal is available electronically.
You can also click where you see Check for Full Text, from within the database, to help you search these two locations.
7. Use Inter Library Loans to obtain items from other libraries
If the item is not available in the library, you may be able to request it via Inter Library Loan.
8. Additional Help
If you still experience difficulties searching for and locating material; you can ask at the 'Ask Me' Desk on Level 1 of the Library & Learning Centre or contact the appropriate Liaison Librarian