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Education: Finding literature for your studies

Library resources for the School of Education

1. Designing a search strategy

A search strategy helps you to clarify and focus your search so that you are not overwhelmed with irrelevant results.

You can start by writing down your question.

For example, from this question; 

What evidence exists which considers the impact of social media on mental health among teenagers?  

The key terms are:    

social media mental health teenagers

Focusing on teenager, it would be possible to suggest these alternatives: adolescent, young person, young adult, youth  

Think carefully about the meaning of the alternative words. In this example, if we are only interested in articles relating to those aged 13 to 19 years old, then young person, youth etc may include those younger or older than your target age group. Equally it may be important to include the wider terms in order not to exclude potentially relevant research so it is worth spending time on this to make sure your search is thorough and effective.  

Boolean logic = AND OR NOT 

Each term for which you have alternative words is combined with OR e.g. teenager OR adolescent OR young person OR young adult OR youth. This is called a search string. If you have completed your scoping search, you may already have identified helpful search terms and strings from other literature. 

Unlike general web search engines, the databases you will be using, do not assume alternative spelling or phrases. They search for the terms exactly as you enter them into the search fields. This means you control the search rather than database. It also means you need to make use of truncation and phrase searching. The Useful search tips box explains how to use these. So our search string could look like this:  

Teen* OR adolescen* OR “young person*” OR” young adult” OR youth*  

 

Most searches combine just 2 or 3 search strings. For example, the search strings could be:   

“social media” OR “social network*” OR Instagram OR Snapchat OR Facebook OR Twitter  

AND  

“mental health” OR wellbeing OR anxiet* or depression  

AND  

Teen* OR adolescen* OR “young person*” OR” young adult” OR youth*  

2 Types of publications

In addition to peer reviewed journal articles you will need to consider grey literature. This includes conference papers, papers in process, pre prints, theses, official publications, and other non commercially published materials. The Library’s Subject Guides provide access to a range of sources for this form of literature.  

3. Which database to use

If you are already familiar with some databases which are relevant to your research question, you can consider using those in the first instance. 

Google Scholar is often considered to be a starting point but at university the expectation is that you will source articles and other materials from peer reviewed databases. This ensures that you are engaging with peer reviewed literature.  

The Library Article Search searches all of the journals which there are subscriptions to. It is a good option for searching across all subject areas though it very much depends on your topic.

Subject specific databases allow you search a collection of subject specific journals and a range of other scholarly sources so you are focusing your search from the beginning.

Education 

Social Sciences and Social Work (including Criminolog, Social Policy and Social Work) 

Management (including Accounting, Business, Economics and Finance) 

If your research question is multi-disciplinary you may also need to select databases from other subject areas.   

To avoid being overwhelmed with results, you can ask your subject librarian for help with selecting databases.  

Formal Library training is also provided for PG students.

4. Searching databases

Natural and academic language 

Use a mixture of natural and academic language as these will appear in the title and abstracts of papers.  For example, teenager has a lot of synonyms so a variety of alternative words can be used including teen, young person, young adult, adolescents, adolescence etc.  

Subject headings 

Subject headings are umbrella terms used by some databases to describe content or information.  Articles are assigned a number of subject headings by indexers on behalf of the databases.  It is a great method of searching for relevant literature related to your topic. 

Phrase searching 

Most databases use double quotation marks (“…”) to search for phrases.  This is useful when you want to find results where the words appear together to make up a phrase, for example, "cognitive behavioural therapy" or “heart attack”. 

Truncation  

Many databases use the asterisk (*) as a truncation command.  When used at the end of a keyword, it will instruct the database to search the root of the word and retrieve results with various endings, for example, disease* will find disease, diseases and diseased.  Using truncation can be useful when searching for plurals. 

 

For more advanced searching....

Wildcards 

You may also need to consider using a wildcard symbol where you wish to substitute letters e.g. wom?n will ensure the database finds women or woman. 

Proximity searching  

It’s worth considering how close you may need your search terms to be found. Using proximity syntax can assist in retrieving relevant results.  

Databases can use different syntax so it’s worth checking the Help menu of each resource. You can also ask your subject librarian for help with this.  

5. Saving results

It's really important that you don't loose your references.

Most databases will allow you to save your results and / export your results to a bibliographic management system. This is particularly helpful when you are managing large amounts of references, (articles, books etc) but also useful for storing references which you may wish to refer to when exploring further research. 

EndNote is a reference management package which is widely used to help with storing and organizing search results for systematic reviews. It is freely available for Queen's staff and students, via the university’s subscription. There are alternative products available and you are not required to use EndNote, but other systems may not be supported by the university. 

For further information, please see the Reference management guide.

Further help and training

Your Subject Librarian will work through any or all of the above elements with you. If you are a student or member of staff at Queen's Management School or the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, please contact Norma Menabney via email n.menabney@qub.ac.uk