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Literature searching: How to find and use databases: Introduction

An introduction to undertaking literature searches. Planning your search, selecting search terms and constructing searches. Evaluating material you find, and recording and referencing the sources you use.

Literature searching

Being able to find relevant and appropriate material on a topic is important at every level of study and research – whether it is finding articles for a tutorial or conducting a thorough piece of research for a dissertation or thesis.

How you undertake a particular literature search will depend on the nature of the research, the subject you are researching and your personal preferences. However, broadly speaking, there are some stages you should consider when undertaking a literature search.

These include:

  • Analysing your research topic – or defining your research question.
  • Selecting your search terms (or subject terms and keywords)
  • Selecting your search tools (for example specialist databases)
  • Planning your search strategy including how you will use Boolean and other operators to refine your results and then systematically undertaking searches.

After finding material you need to

  • Evaluate the sources you have found
  • Record the sources accurately, and
  • Reference the material you use correctly in your work.
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