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Biosciences: Literature searching

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg

Literature searching

A literature search is a systematic search of the relevant literature relating to a specific topic.

Here's what you'll find in this section:

  • How to create a search strategy
  • Deciding where you will search
  • Defining your key words
  • Critically appraising your results

If you can't find what you're looking for or you have any questions please click on the Contact us tab to get in touch with the team.

Literature searching - step by step

Spending a small amount of time thinking about your search strategy will really help you when finding information for your assignments. They key points to a good search strategy are:

  • Defining your Keywords
  • Setting limits (ie: date of publication, language)
  • Where are you going to search? (databases, websites etc.)
  • Recording your results

Search tips

  • If you get a lot of results try searching in the title field, rather than a more general topic search as this will cut down and focus your results
  • Use “Search within” or connect terms with AND to bring in more than one idea.
  • Use quotation marks to do a phrase search.
  • Use truncation * to find different endings e.g. coast* finds coast, coasts, coastal.
  • If there is more than one possible term for your subject link the different words with OR.
  • Try sorting your results – by date will bring the most recent research to the top, cited by will bring influential research to the top.
  • Here are a few book chapters that can help you when it comes to developing your search strategy:

    There is a wide range of information you may like to include in your assignments. This includes:

    • Books - We recommend that you start with your module reading list in Blackboard to find key texts on your topic. You can also click on the Finding books tab to learn more.
    • Journal articles - You can find more useful information by clicking on the Finding journal articles tab.
    • Grey Literature - This is basically anything not published in a journal, for example conference proceedings, Government documents, Reports from Organizations.
    Getting your keywords right is a very important part of the search process, the more literature you read on your topic the more keywords and key terms you will come across. At the beginning of your search you may only have a few keywords, with these you can conduct a scoping search (a brief, broad search) to get an overview of how much literature there is on your topic. Based on your results you can then refine your keywords and rerun your search. If your mind goes blank, try looking a subject dictionary. Also you can try a general internet search and see what terminology comes up.

    NB: Some of our databases will also have Subject Headings/Thesaurus headings.  Using subject heading searches is an advanced way of searching for literature and can provide a useful, focused set of results.  Each database will have a help page with further details.

    Critically appraising your sources is a crucial element of any literature search and a question we get asked a lot.  How do you know if your sources are:

    • reliable
    • academic enough
    • free from bias
    Some things to think about:
    • Where is it indexed? Databases like Web of Science and Scopus quality check the journals they cover.
    • Number of citations. If a paper has lots of citations by other academics it is likely to be a good paper.
    • Is the journal peer reviewed? This means that a paper has been read and checked by other academics before publication
    • What do you know about the author? Are they likely to be expert in the field?
    • It is also worth noting the date of the paper. For some topics you would probably want recent research although this is not always the case.
    • Are you looking at the final version of the paper or a preprint (author’s draft). These will not have formatting such as the journal title, logo, page numbers, etc.

    There are a number of excellent books, book chapters and websites that can help you when it comes to critically appraising your sources.  Here are a few:

    • Bell, J., & Waters, S. (2014). Doing your research project: A guide for first-time researchers (6th ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education. (Read Chapter 6 - The review of the literature)
    • Robson, C., & McCartan, K. (2016). Real world research (4th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley. (Read Chapter 3 - Developing your ideas)

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