Where to start!
Define your topic. What is the dissertation going to cover?
Identify key terms that relate to the topic. Write these down using a mind map if this helps
Search, analyse your results, refine your search further (see below for help on this)
Search again with new information
Use bibliographies and footnotes from articles and books
Use book reviews in resources like JSTOR or Project MUSE
Things to be aware of when searching databases, Google Scholar and Google
Specific terms (e.g. “community cinema”)
Using quotation marks for terms keeps the words together so they preserve the right meaning. In the example above you are looking for community relating to cinema and nothing else.
Similar and related terms (e.g. film, movies, picture houses)
Brainstorm, use a thesaurus. Often there is more than one way of saying something. Different databases have their own internal thesauri but nonetheless, it is useful to be aware of this.
Spellings and terminology (e.g. behaviour vs. behavior)
Some databases have the US/UK variations in spelling covered but search again if you are finding this is not the case with certain terms. A wildcard may be used for words where there is one letter in the difference (e.g. organi?ation for organisation/organization)
Singulars and plurals
Again, a wildcard may be used for words where there is one letter in the difference (e.g. wom?n for woman or women)
Combining terms AND, OR and NOT
Use AND in a search to:
- narrow your results
- tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
e.g. Mental Health AND Nursing AND Ethics will give you results with all these words present
Use OR in a search to:
- connect two or more similar concepts
- broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
e.g. Mental Health OR Nursing OR Ethics will give you results for items with only the word Mental Health present, the word Nursing present or the word Ethics present.
Use NOT in a search to:
- leave out words from your search
e.g. Fertilizer NOT Artificial Fertilizer
You can save time with words that have the same root by adding a truncation sign *. In the example of photograph you could have photographs, photographic, photographer…
Refining your search further
What type of publications are you going to look at? Peer-reviewed articles, reports, conference papers?
What dates will you cover?
Any particular country or geographical region?
What databases are you going to use for your search? Article Search is the QUB full-text database of articles but you also have individual databases. Have a look at the Databases A-Z page or your own LibGuide subject page for recommended databases. Consult with your subject librarian or your supervisor if you need to.