It is important to prepare a plan for how you will find references relevant to your dissertation - this is generally known as a 'search strategy'.
This strategy will be defined by your dissertation topic(s) and any specific limits which have been placed on it by your department/supervisor. Your interests may be limited to certain topics in your subject matter, by date, by geographical area, by a particular method of analysis, or by a particular viewpoint/aspect of the subject.
Some related topics may be included and some may be excluded. It is important to get these limits sorted and agreed by your supervisor in order for your search strategy to be correctly formulated. This is an iterative process and you may need to return for discussions with your supervisor several times before a final position is agreed.
Searching for information - where to start?
There is a lot of information out there! Searching for information is easy but finding reliable, useful and relevant information is a much harder task. You will need to search for good information sources when you come to learn about a subject or topic. To answer your research question you will search for books, journals, articles and many more information sources. This is where developing skills in searching effectively come in. This page takes you through a range of different strategies and techniques for effectively searching for information online. This could be searching our Library catalogue Primo, subject databases and online search engines.
Why do I need to learn to search effectively?
Learning how to form effective search strategies will help you find relevant and useful information. It is very easy to find information in an electronic database by typing in a few keywords. What is not so easy is to find the information and results you actually need and require. By adopting certain search techniques, the results you find will be more concise and more relevant to your topic. This will save you time and enable you to focus on information of real value to your studies and research.
How do I do it?
Use this page to learn different ways to plan, organise, execute and refine your searches.
You can find Information anywhere — books, diaries, social media, blogs, personal experiences, magazine articles, expert opinions, encyclopedias, and web pages — and the type of information you need will vary depending on the question you are trying to answer for your assignment or research.
Different assignments require information from a variety of sources; therefore, you need to understand where to go to find certain types of information. Knowing what type of source you need will also help you find the correct source.
There are three broad categories of sources:
Take a look through these tabs for definitions and a few examples.
Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. They are firsthand documents that provide direct evidence on your topic.
News film footage
Tertiary sources are organisation, categorisation, index or collection of sources. A tertiary source presents summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with references back to the primary and/or secondary sources.
Fact books and digests
Directories and guidebooks
Indexing and abstracting sources
When you are searching for sources, keep a look out for peer-reviewed articles.
These types of articles:
A peer-reviewed article is an article that has a badge of quality.
In Primo you will see this image for a peer reviewed source:
A sequence of steps which you can follow for selecting terms/phrases and building them into your search strategy is given below:
Repeat this procedure from steps 3-9 in a more specialist database, again adding any further useful terms which you find to the relevant group of concepts, until you are contented with the search. Use the same output method as used with the general database to output your results.
Every time you get results from a database, you will need to manage them.
To avoid duplicating your searches again and again, save them!
Take a look through these tabs to find out more on how to save searches and records and how to go about emailing them to yourself.
If you find that you are repeatedly searching for the same word or phrase, you can save a search term to your Account on Primo.
In Primo, at the top of the search results page, you will see an option to Save query.
If you would like to be notified by email when new results are added to your search, click Turn on notification for this query on the banner that appears.
Click on the push pin icon which is located in the top right hand corner of the Primo page to go to your favourites, and then click the Saved Searches tab to view your saved searches:
You have the option to delete these saved searches whenever you wish by clicking on Unpin this search:
next to the search you wish to remove.
If you have found an item on Primo you wish to save to your account for future reference, you can store or save a record by clicking the push pin icon next to the title.
At the top right of the Primo page, click the "Go to my favourites" push pin icon to view your saved items.
You can email your saved items to yourself too.
next to the title.
Before you start
Consider 3 questions:
Highlight the key terms or keywords in your research question. Think carefully about suitable keywords and synonyms which are alternative words that have a similar meaning that will enable you to find manageable amounts of relevant material - not so many results to cause information overload, or so few that you retrieve insufficient information.
Think about alternative words/phrases or synonyms you should include in your search in order to improve your search results.
If you were researching the failure of small business in the UK you could use the following keywords:
As well as searching for the UK, you might also search for:
Use a thesaurus for synonyms: https://www.powerthesaurus.org/
Some databases have a built-in thesaurus you can use to find alternative terms.
Think about if you can use acronyms or abbreviations in your search. These can be included in your search terms in order to find matching results.
Have a look at the following websites to find more abbreviations and acronyms:
There are over 230,000 entries and 81 categories such as business, medicine, science and international abbreviations and acronyms.
Acronym Finder is a searchable dictionary of over 330,000 acronyms and abbreviations.
Think about differences in spellings and terminology, and use alternatives into your search strategy.
Wildcard symbols can help with this:
See 'Using symbols ?' box in the right hand column for further information on how to do this.
Boolean operators form the basis of database logic and are used to combine concepts when searching. By using these operators, you are able to focus your search. They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.
The three basic boolean operators are:
Remember to type these operators in capital letters.
Why use Boolean operators?
Use AND in a search to:
cat AND dog
exercise AND health
pollution AND water AND pesticides
Be aware: In many, but not all, databases, the AND is the default search and automatically puts an AND in between your search terms.
Use OR in a search to:
cat OR dog
travel OR tourism
cloning OR genetics OR reproduction
Use NOT in a search to:
cat NOT dog
cloning NOT sheep
travel NOT tourists
You can use multiple operators within the same search to get even more effective and powerful results. Databases follow commands you type in and return results based on those commands. When combining your search terms, be aware of your search order.
You are looking for information on cloning humans and cloning sheep. You could combine your operators as:
If you do not use the (parentheses) and search using the following cloning AND sheep OR human, your search will be processed as:
You can narrow your search results in databases by filtering the appropriate fields. For example clicking the Full Text Online option will show you just the items which you can access online directly through Primo.
You're telling the catalogue or database exactly what you want to be displayed.
Other examples to filter your results:
|Too many results||Too few results|
Phrase searching helps you to limit your search as it is used to specify that your terms must appear next to each other, and in the order you specify.
Phrase searching is achieved by surrounding your phrase with "quotation marks". (Always check the database help screens, as some databases may use different symbols.)
For example, when your add the quotation marks to the following terms, the database searches for those exact terms in the order your specify and not anywhere in the item record.
"Welsh medium education"
"to be or not to be"
Truncation is another search technique you can use to find different word endings based on the root of a word. Truncate simply means to shorten something. When you are searching using truncation as a search technique, you will shorten or remove the ending of a particular word and leave behind just the root of that particular word which is shared by multiple terms so that the database will look for all the variations. You will not have to type all the different variations of the term as the database will search this for you in one go, rather than you making several separate searches.
The truncation symbol (*) retrieves any number of letters - useful to find different word endings based on the root of a word.
educat* will find and retrieve results containing educate, education, educational, educationalist.
agricultur* will find and retrieve results agriculture, agricultural, agriculturalist.
child* will find and retrieve results child, childs, children, childrens, childhood, childish, childlike.
Wildcards are similar to truncation but they are used to substitute for a single letter or no letter in a word. They are useful for irregular plurals and for British/American English spellings. They broaden your search by including variant word spellings.
The question mark symbol is most commonly used.
wom?n will search and find woman and women
behavio?r will search and find behaviour and behavior
model?ing will search and find modeling and modelling
organi?e will search and find organise and organize