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Newcastle University

University Library

Subject support guide

Your subject-specific guide to using library resources.

Library Search

Finding Information

With so much information out there, it’s important that you know how to search for it effectively. But where do you start, and are there any tips to make searching easier? Let’s find out…

Starting your search

The key to effective research is to look for information in the right places. For students at Newcastle University, you should begin with Library Search, where you’ll find a wide range of books, journal articles, conference papers, news items and more. It also allows you to search across our many subscription databases and special collections. Then, once you’re happy with the information you’ve found, you can move on to your specialist subject databases.

  Check out our Performing a search video to get started...
 

Developing a search strategy

At a very early stage, a search engine such as Google can help you get a feel for your topic and its terminology. However, to find quality scholarly research and academic material that you can use in your own work, you're going to have to take a more structured approach.

So where do you start? First, you need to develop a search strategy: a carefully considered list of search terms that you will search for. Sounds simple, but it’s more involved than you might think. Read on to find out more…

Struggling to find keywords? Start reading around your subject. The more you read about a topic, the more keywords you’ll discover. You could also use an online thesaurus to find synonyms, and scan your search results for alternative words and phrases.

Asking the right question

It’s common to begin a research project with a fairly general, broad question. However, if you don’t break that question down into more manageable chunks, you risk being overwhelmed by the results you retreive. Click the Search button below Search Icon to try this question on Library Search...

Does eating chocolate help students concentrate?

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Before jumping in and Googling your full research question, ask yourself – what is the key thing you want to find out? What do you already know about your research topic? Are there areas of your research that you need to look at in more detail? What are your information gaps?

Reframing your assignment or research project into a well-defined, searchable question will make your literature search more specific and your results more relevant. So, for the research question above, the following may be more appropriate phrasing: "Does consumption of dark chocolate have an impact on concentration levels in undergraduate students?"

Keywords

Keywords are simple words and phrases that describe information. Subject databases record information about every item they contain, including author’s name, document title, and abstract (summary). When you perform an online search, your keywords are matched against this information. If there’s a match, a link to that item is returned in your results. 

The trick to a successful search is to use your common sense and subject knowledge to develop a balanced list of targeted keywords. If your keywords are too general, you’ll end up with thousands of hits – some totally irrelevant. Likewise, if your keywords are too specific or technical, you might miss important information!

dark chocolate undergraduate concentration

Search Button

Just remember, successful searching takes time and you’ll rarely hit on all the information you need at the first attempt.

Synonyms

A single concept can be expressed in many different ways. For example, student might also be described as undergraduate, postgraduate, or simply as learner, scholar or pupil. Spellings and terminology may also change slightly between countries and subject disciplines, and researchers may describe their work in different ways.

It’s therefore really important to think about synonyms – other words or phrases that have the same or similar meaning to your original search terms. Think internationally, consider different terminology and expressions, and try different word endings, tenses and spellings – it all helps.

Using Library Search

Once you have a list of keywords, you can then try entering them into a search engine to retrieve results. For Newcastle University students, the first place you should do this is Library Search. Check out our video below to see how to do this.

Video: Using Library Search


This video highlights the main features of Newcastle University's Library Search

Moving on to your subject databases

When you’re happy with the information you’ve found on Library Search, don't forget to move on to your specialist subject databases and try your searches again. You may find some of the same articles, but you’ll probably also find new content.

Your library liaison team has brought together the most relevant databases and specialist resources for your subject area. You’ll find these listed on your Subject Guides so be sure to check them out.