How do I search for information?


When it comes to searching for information, a little bit of planning and consideration go a long way and may save you time (and frustration) in the long run.

When you have an assignment to do, you could just plough straight in and start searching for information without giving it much thought, but following the following stages of successful searching should make finding the information you need a little easier.

Examine your question

Before you begin looking for information, you need to understand what you are looking for. Take time to understand your research topic, or assignment question and give some thought to what you want to know:

  • Where are the gaps in your knowledge?
  • What information do you need to find to support your arguments? 
  • What depth of information do you need? 
  • Does the information you need cover a particular time period, or geographical region?

Identify keywords

You may be used to using search engines like Google in which you can enter a sentence or question to search for the information you need. Academic search tools, such as LibrarySearch, do not quite work in the same way. These tools don't know how to process searches which use complex statements and questions, so entering your entire assignment question or title into a tool like LibrarySearch is not likely to return many useful results.

With tools like LibrarySearch you will need to search using keywords. Keywords are words and phrases used to describe the main concepts, ideas, events and issues you are researching. Keywords allow you to focus your search using targeted words to get the best results from academic search tools. Therefore, before you even begin searching for information, it is important that you spend some time defining the topic you are researching in terms of keywords.

In order to perform a thorough search, it is also important that you consider alternative words and phrases (synonyms) which may also be used to describe the concepts you are researching. If your initial search is not successful, having a good list of alternative keywords prepared will save you time and frustration.

Set Limits

Now that you have a list of keywords, you need to consider what limits may apply to your search. For example, you may want to limit your search to information from a particular time frame, geographical region, or to a particular field of study (or subject area). To some extent this may be dictated by your question, or the way in which you have chosen to narrow the focus of your research. Most academic search tools, such as LibrarySearch, have options to allow you to limit or refine your search in these ways.

You may also want to limit your search to a particular type of information, or type of publication. Perhaps you only wish to consult journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications for example? Again, most academic search tools will allow you to set these limits. It is worth noting that if you are looking for very specialist information, such as a marketing report, or a particular set of data for example, it may be that you will need to use a specialist information resource (or database) for this. Your Subject Librarian will be able to give you advice about the best resources to use to find the information you need. Find the contact details of your Subject Librarian.

Review and Revise

Have a go at searching using some of the keywords you have identified. Review the results of your initial search and decide whether you have found enough good results that are relevant to your topic (see How do I evaluate the information I find?). Be prepared, it will often be the case that you don't get the results you want immediately. It may be that you get too few results, or an overwhelming number, in which case you will need to revise your search strategy to improve your results:

Too many results:

  • Review your keywords: Are they too broad? Is there a more precise term you could use? 
  • If you have lots of irrelevant results consider if your keywords have another meaning in a different context. 
  • Add in more keywords to make your search more specific. 
  • Set more limits. 

Too few results:

  • Try alternative terms (or synonyms) which describe your key concepts.
  • If you are searching for multiple concepts, identify the least important and remove that keyword to make your search broader.
  • Remove some limits.

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