Research a topic

Introduction

This page contains advice on how to find and use information, including literature searching. This is a key skill that you will need here at University and after. Follow the "Six steps" when you need to search for information and you could save yourself effort and get better results. If you are looking for advice on what sources are useful for a particular subject try the slimmed down subject version of the six steps in the subject resources and support pages.

When searching for information it is important to be flexible, as one good source will lead to others, and you may need to redo part or all of your search in the light of the results you find.

Research a topic - in six steps

  1. Starting out
  2. Quick search
  3. Advanced search - beyond Google
  4. Evaluate your results
  5. Writing up
  6. Keeping up to date

A section on Finding out more is at the end of this page.

1. Starting out

First, consider what you already know about, or have about, the topic:

  • Look at any information you already have, as this may lead to further information.
    Most journal articles, books, theses and dissertations will provide you with references to earlier work; they will help you identify the best search terms to use, including authors and keywords. You can find more recent references by making a citation search on your known references and they may help you to identify useful people and organisations to contact.
  • If you are researching a topic new to you, or need some specific information:
    You could consult a textbook covering the topic, or try quick reference tools - dictionaries, encyclopedias, and data books can provide definitions, summaries or specific information

Next, decide whether you need to make a quick search or a more advanced search:

  • Quick search is appropriate if you only need a limited amount of information about the topic

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2. Quick search

 If you only need a limited amount of information about the topic:

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3. Advanced search - beyond Google

If you need to make a comprehensive, quality assured search of the literature of the topic:

Before you start the search think about your subject, keywords and concepts it is part of or related to. It may be an idea to have a piece of paper and write down all aspects of the subject you can think of and then decide which are relevant to your search. Advice on choosing search terms is available.  It is often best to search for recent information first as good sources will lead you to earlier ones, through the lists of references at the end of chapter of books or end of journal articles.  Note that databases often have special search facilities not found on search engines, such as citation searching and controlled vocabulary searching (often using a thesaurus).

Many databases now have our Get it! buttons, which will help you link to the full text of a particular reference if we have access, or search Library Search to see if we have it in print.  If we have neither, a link is provided to our inter-library loan service.  If Get it! is not available on a database,  how to find a journal article explains how to get hold of a particular journal article.

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4. Evaluating results

Once you have started your search, you will need to:

Remember to judge the quality of the information that you find, and be prepared to be flexible.  You may need to re-run your search with different search terms, or use a different database or search engine.

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5. Writing up

In many circumstances you will need to write up the results of your search, and therefore:

Even if you are not required to write up, it is recommended that you make a list of the references you have found useful - you may well be asked where you found the information.

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6. Keeping up to date

If you need to keep up with new developments on the topic, perhaps because you are working on an ongoing project:

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Finding out more

If you would like to find out more about the literature of your subject, or literature searching in general, there are books giving guidance, and probably Internet resources as well. You could search by subject keyword on Library Search, or find the classmark where books on this topic are shelved in the Library. Useful keywords may include information, literature together with sources, searching, find, finding. Often books on more general study skills include a section on literature searching. Internet resources may be listed on the Internet links page of the subject resources pages.

Library staff, in particular your subject contact in the library, will be happy to help or advise you on finding information.

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