As a student and researcher at a university, you need to have knowledge of how information is created and disseminated, and how to find scientific sources. This becomes increasingly important as information is created at an ever-faster pace and with varying quality. On this page you will get information on where and how you can search.
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To provide background and support your arguments in academic texts, you need to make an informed selection of relevant sources. Here you will learn how to search for information in an efficient and structured way. After having done your searches the next step is to
critically evaluate your sources.
The library provides access to databases and search tools. There are also many freely available databases and search tools. Your information need determines which database or search service you should choose. In some cases, there are databases specifically focused on your subject. For more comprehensive searches, it may be good to search in several databases. Click on the dropdown list below to get an overview of different types of databases and search tools and their content.
Everything on the open web. Web pages and reports from businesses, public/government authorities, organisations
The library search tool Primo
Books, both printed and electronic
To search in a structured way, you need to master general search principles and techniques. These can be used in most databases and search tools. Understanding how databases work will help you search more efficiently, and you can feel more confident in having found what has been written about your subject. Sometimes finding a single article is sufficient, and in that case, you don't need to conduct an advanced search, although it's always good to consider the keywords you use.
Contructing a search
In the video below, you will see how to construct a search with keywords based on a research question. If you prefer text over video, you can scroll a bit further down the page where you can read about the search techniques used in the video. The video is in Swedish, but you can choose to turn on English subtitles.
Improving a search
Even if you have made a thorough search, you often need to go back and make changes. Maybe one of teh search terms yields a lot of irrelevant hits, or makes the search too narrow. In this video, you'll learn how to improve a search that has not worked out so well. The video is in Swedish, but you can choose to turn on English subtitles.
From research question to keywords
Start by formulating your research question. Then identify the keywords that are central to your question. See the example below.
Can universal design contribute to sustainable urban development?
Can universal design contribute to sustainable urban development?
Authors don't always use the same words, so it is essential to think of alternative words and synonyms. What synonyms can you find for your keywords?
Translate your keywords into English or other relevant languages.
• Universal design, inclusive design, design for all
• Sustainable, sustainability
• City space: cities, urban
Finding suitable keywords and synonyms can be challenging. Dictionaries and encyclopedias can be helpful.
If you already have an article on the topic, you can look at the words used in the title, abstract and keywords and use them in your own search.
Example of an article record in the Web of Science database
In this example you can see that there are some alternative terms to sustainable and urban development such as smart city planning, sustainable urban forms and eco-cities.
Some databases have subject heading lists. With the help of these, you can find out which words are suitable for searching information on your topic. The subject headings lists are often available under the caption Subject headings or Thesaurus.
In most databases, you can't search the fulltext of the documents. The searches are performed in information about the article, somtimes called metadata. For subject searches, title, abstract and keywords are the most relevant fields.
Here are some tips on search techniques that work in most databases and that will help you get the most out of your search.
Use an asterisk (*) to include different word endings.
A search for architect* retrieves records including architects, architecture and architectural.
This can be useful to include different grammatical forms of a word, such as ecology and ecological.
If you are searching for a search term consisting of several words, it may be helpful to put quotation marks around the words to keep them together. For example, searching for "climate change" within quotation marks will only retrieve hits where the words stand next to each other. This way you exclude results where the words "climate" and "change" occur separately.
Combine search terms with Boolean operators
You can narrow down or expand your search by using AND or OR. In the illustrations below, each circle represents a search term. The blue parts represent what is found in the different searches.
AND is used to limit your search. Searching for "city planning" AND sustainab* will only retrieve documents containing both search terms. In most databases, the search terms you enter are combined with AND unless you specify otherwise. The left circle in the picture represents all documents containing the term city planning, and the right circle represents all documents containing words starting with sustainab. The blue area in the middle where the circles overlap represents the documents containing both terms and therefore found in the search.
OR is used to broaden the search. Searching for sustainab* OR environment* OR green will retrieve documents containing at least one of the search terms.
The three circles in the picture illustrate three different search terms. The blue parts show what is found with the search sustainab* OR environment* OR green, that is, all documents containing one or more of the search terms.
Search String or Search Strategy
You can use both AND and OR in the same search. For example, if you're interested in finding sources about the legal aspects of self-driving cars, the search could look like this:
("self-driv*" OR "autonomous vehicle*") AND (legal OR law*)
When combining search terms in this way, you find documents containing any of the search terms in the first parenthesis and any of the search terms in the second parenthesis.
When both AND and OR are used in the same search string, you must use parentheses in order to control how your search will be interpreted, as we have done in the example below. Since it's not standardized in which order the database performs AND and OR, a search like:
“self-driv*” OR “autonomous vehicle*” AND legal OR law*
could be interpreted as, for example:
“self driv*” OR (”autonomous vehicle*” AND legal*) OR law*
resulting in search results containing "self driv*", and other results containing law*, and also results containing "autonomous vehicle* AND legal*".
The following checklist can be a good starting point:
Who created the information?
Is the person an authority in their field? What else have they published?
Is there a creator missing? Is it an organization or authority responsible for the information? If it is a webpage with unclear sender, it may be good to try to look for contact information.
Where is the information published?
Is it a primary or secondary source?
Has the information been reviewed before publication? If it is a scientific article, has it undergone peer review?
When was the material compiled?
Could the information have become outdated?
Has anything happened in the research area that affects or contradicts the source?
Is the information formulated objectively or subjectively?
Are certain interests represented?
Who is the information targeting?
Is the content scientific/popular science?
Are the facts in the material correct?
Are arguments and conclusions linked to results in the study/report?
Are there references to claims and facts? Can you find another study where the information is confirmed?
Has any of the information disappeared?
With my prior knowledge as a yardstick; does the new information seem reasonable?
As a student you take part in academic communication both as a reader and as a writer. To be able to produce academic information you need to learn to independently search for, evaluate and use different kinds of information.
Academic information is written by researchers that present new findings mainly addressed to other researchers within the same subject area. Theoretical points, methods and results are often presented according to a certain structure in a neutral way using a terminology specific for that subject area. In scientific texts you also find references to other sources which mark the border between other researcher’s results and yours.
Scientific articles are a form for publishing research results. Articles submitted to the scientific journal are assessed by an editorial board and most scientific journals also use peer review, which means that the articles are reviewed anonymously by a group of external researchers in the same subject area.
There are two main types of scientific articles: original articles and review articles. In original articles, the results of individual studies are published for the first time. In review articles, several studies are summarized to give an overall picture of the state of research on a specific topic.
In technology and natural science, scientific articles are the dominant form of publication. In other subject areas such as the humanities and social sciences, publication in book form is also common.
Popular science information is mainly aimed at readers who are not experts in a research field. The texts in popular science journals are usually not characterized by scientific language and are rarely detailed in the way that is characteristic of scientific texts. The articles are based on previous research but do not necessarily refer explicitly to other sources. Examples of popular science magazines are New Scientist, Illustrated Science and Detail.
Commercial information such as advertising or product information is issued by companies and is aimed at customers. The aim is both to market and to inform. There is a risk that the information is biased. At the same time, this type of publication can contain important information that is difficult to find in other sources.
During the doctoral education, the doctoral student writes a thesis. This is reviewed by an grading committee that assesses whether it can be approved. In science and technology, it is common with compilation theses that consist of several scientific articles and a cohesive text, a so-called kappa. In the humanities and social sciences, it is common for doctoral theses to be published in the form of monographs. The doctoral thesis is more extensive than a scientific article.
Research presented during a conference is often published in the form of an abstract or scientific article in a conference publication. In some cases, the conference contributions are scientifically reviewed.
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