Topic Name Description
Literature Searching Book Literature searching

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File Academic vs Professional Information
DEVELOPING YOUR SEARCH TECHNIQUES Book Building an effective search
Book Identifying key words and smart searching


What are the key words that describe your subject?

Establishing the key words that will enable you to identify texts and articles that are of most relevance to your research is crucial. Have you:

  • brainstormed all of the terms which you think are relevant?

  • thought of all possible synonyms, alternative and related key words and concepts?

  • used subject dictionaries and encyclopedias to extend your list?


Key words really are the key!


Applying controlled vocabulary to a subject provides a consistent method of finding information, and allows you to broaden or narrow your focus

There are two main kinds of controlled vocabulary used in databases - subject headings and thesaurus terms

What are subject headings?

Subject headings describe the main focus of the content of a publication,

and provide terms which bring together different ways of defining a subject.

How can a Thesaurus help?

Thesauri list words grouped together according to similarity of meaning.

Thesauri also list equivalent terms and narrower, broader and related terms.

Smart searching

Compiling a list of relevant key words is a crucial step; but there are ways to use those terms when searching a database to ensure that you get the best possible results.

One of the most powerful techniques when searching a database is Truncation. It works like this: simply add an asterisk (*) to the root of a word

Searching a database by entering the term optic* in the search box will find optic, optics, optician, optical, etc.


When searching databases remember the small but important differences between British English and American English - you don't want to miss things if contributors to your subject are based across the Atlantic or there are high-profile specialist journals published in America. Using Wildcards gets over this problem.

  • characteri?sation will find characterisation and characterization: note the - this is a Wildcard search

  • colo$r will find color and colour: note the - this is also a Wildcard search

Phrase searching

Phrase searching can be used with almost all databases and library catalogues.

Phrase searching works by using "quotation marks"

If you search a database using "energy conservation" then it will retrieve results that only include that exact phrase - it could occur in the title or, if you are using a full-text database, the phrase could occur somewhere in the main body of the text.

Boolean Operators

Use Boolean Operators to combine your search terms

  • Using AND will narrow your search

  • Using OR will broaden your search

  • Using NOT will narrow your search

A visual representation of the three main Boolean Operators

In order to avoid missing important references when searching databases use the  techniques we've outlined here - either singly or in combination

Book Structuring your searches and recording the results

This Prezi gives guidance on structuring your searches to get the most out of the databases you are using.

EVALUATING INFORMATION Book Evaluating information

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PLANNING AND CARRYING OUT A LITERATURE REVIEW Book Planning and carrying out a literature review
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Practical Tips Book Managing information

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Book Keeping up to date with the latest research

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Book Tools and information sharing

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Mental Health and Wellbeing Book Internal support

QMUL's Researcher Development Team offer the following four workshops as part of the Survive and Thrive programme:

Boosting Willpower and Resilience

Busting Self-Criticism and Self-Sabotage

Making Stress Your Friend

Mindfulness for Academic Success

Information on how to book a place is available at: Click on the 'All Researchers' tab at the top of the course list.

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THE VIVA Page Additional reading