While it can be tempting to launch straight into a search, knowing how to search effectively and planning your search before you begin (often referred to as a search strategy) will save you time, make your search more structured and ensure your search results are relevant.
Start the process by clarifying the research question you would like answered. And take into consideration what kind of literature you need to search for and any limits to your search.
You may have been given a topic or had to choose a topic yourself but in either case it is helpful to think of your research topic as a question.
A good research question is manageable in scope - not too broad but not too narrow (think of Goldilocks, you want it just right). If your topic is too broad, you may become overwhelmed and find it difficult to organise your ideas. If your topic is too narrow, you may not be able to find enough information to include.
It can be helpful to start with a broad idea, then narrow your focus by brainstorming related ideas. At this stage it can be useful to do some background reading on your topic or some general searches within DiscoverEd to read around your topic and get ideas. Think in terms of questions you want answers to, what do you know and what don't you know.
At this early stage it can also be useful to think about what kinds of literature or material you are needing to search for. This can help focus your search although it is likely you will will need to use a combination of different types of sources in order to fully explore your topic.
Are there any limits to your search?
And remember you may have limits on the amount of time you can spend on this.
You can use your research question to identify keywords for your search but you also need to consider alternative keywords that could be used.
Once you have your research question you should try to identify what the key concepts are. These will be your original keywords and phrases (search terms) that you will use to search for literature.
My example research question is:
My key concepts therefore are:
Think about different keywords to describe your subject or topic.
It may help to do some background reading around your topic to help identify alternative keywords. And you may find it useful to use techniques such as brainstorming, word lists or mind maps to generate your keywords.
It can be useful to think of both broad and specific keywords.
Once you've thought of your keywords you then need to decide where you're going to search for literature on your topic.
In the main you will use the Library's research databases. The research databases allow you to search through millions of journal articles, book chapters and book reviews, reports and proceedings, theses, etc., at one time.
No two databases have exactly the same content so you should search several databases to ensure you don't miss a key paper on your topic.
If you know exactly what you're looking for e.g. a journal article, book, etc., then you should search for it in DiscoverEd as it searches both the Library's online and physical collection
However, you can also use DiscoverEd to do some basic literature searching, it can be a good place to start your search.
Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Like DiscoverEd, Google Scholar can be a good place to start your search but it does not allow for the advanced or complex searching you can do in the Library's research databases.
Access eresources using Google Scholar
Google Scholar may not provide access to full-text, however, by linking to the Library you can access full-text where there is a University subscription.
You will now see FindIt@Edinburgh links next to items in your Google Scholar results that you can use to access the full-text.
This short video below demonstrates how to do this.
It's important to be able to combine your keywords together in different ways to ensure you are getting the best search results as possible. Boolean operators allow you to do this effectively.
To help you build a better search and allow for more accurate searching you can use Boolean operators to link your keywords. Boolean operators help you narrow or broaden your search results.
The Boolean operators are:
AND OR NOT
These are some of the techniques you can use to broaden or narrow your search results. Or that will help to increase the relevancy of the results you are getting.
Phrase searching allows you to be more specific and limit your search. With phrase searching you are telling the database to search for a specific phrase, rather than individual keywords.
For phrase searching put quotation marks "" around the phrase.
Check the database's help pages or search tips to see if phrase searching is supported, not all of them do and some will use something other than quotation marks.
By default most databases will search for keywords you enter against full records in the database, making your search very wide. To focus your search you can choose to do field searching, for some or all of your keywords.
Not all databases use the same Fields but common ones are:
You normally have to go into a databases Advanced Search to do field searching. You can use the Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine your searches.
Field searching is possible in DiscoverEd if you click on the Advanced Search link.
Truncation allows you to look for all endings of a word. This is an easy way to broaden your search results.
Type in the stem of the word plus the truncation symbol and the database will search for all endings it can find for that stem.
While the asterisk (*) is a common truncation symbol not all databases use the same symbol. Check their help pages or search tips to find the symbol they use.
Wildcards are similar to truncation but you use them within a word and they tend to be used for alternative spellings. This is an easy way to broaden your search results.
While the question mark (?) is a common truncation symbol not all databases use the same symbol. Check their help pages or search tips to find the symbol they use.
Chaining (or snowballing as it is sometimes referred to) is using one good reference to find others.
Let's say you have found 1 good journal article for your topic:
These are just some examples of how you can use one reference to find more.
SAGE Research Methods is a great resource to use when you are planning and conducting your research.
While it's more aimed at the Social Sciences it covers key research methodology topics that are applicable across subject areas. It includes books, case studies, videos, datasets and much more.
SAGE Research Methods also includes a project planner designed to guide you through a research project.
The IAD's Study Hub is a fantastic resource for taught students on academic and study skills. It covers advice on specific study skills topics, plus downloadable resources with useful study strategies. Skills and topics covered include: