As a researcher your working material consists of academic publications, although other sources can also be helpful. For instance, Wikipedia works perfectly well if you need to know quickly what the birthdate was of an eminent figure from the past. Nevertheless, this chapter will focus on academic literature. This has to answer to other standards than popular scientific publications.
Scientific publications are written by academics for academics. Their purpose is the presentation and discussion of research findings and the advancement of hypotheses and theories. Scientific publications generally consist of (most of) the following characteristics:
Furthermore, if you are going to write an academic paper, you preferably want to use peer reviewed articles. These are articles that, before publication, have been reviewed extensively by peers in the academic field to make sure they are up to academic standards. Flawless research is impossible, but this method should prevent the biggest mistakes.
Searching for literature starts with asking yourself: what am I looking for? After all, the outcome of this question determines the scope of the literature search. In essence, it does not make a difference if you are writing a paper or an article, dissertation or a book. In all cases, there is the need for a solid research question and sub-questions. Therefore, take considerable time to think these through before rushing to the available databases and search engines. Note that literature search should be conducted for each subtopic of your research. This might or might not cover your research questions.
Of course, you are not just going wait for the right question to pop up. Several tips can be helpful in this process.
More information about formulating a research question? Consult this presentation.
Ideally scientific publications are permanent and generally accessible. Limitations of any source are coverage (subjects, number of years etc.), library possession (i.e. printed works) or license agreements/ subscriptions. Academics can use scientific publications to keep adding to their own knowledge over time and to make their personal contributions to the advancement of science and human understanding.
The Vrije Universiteit believes that government-funded research should be available free of charge to as many people as possible. In order to stimulate Open Access publishing via the Golden Route, the VU has concluded OA agreements ('OA deals') with a large number of publishers.
The general rule is: literature databases often focus on a specialized academic discipline. Opposed to these are general, multidisciplinary databases. The latter are good sources to explore the field, while subject databases are good for more specialized search strategies.
Once you've selected ‘your’ database the actual searching starts. For optimal results there are some rules to keep in mind. Looking for literature using just one or two keywords is a great way to generally ‘explore’ the field and get an idea of what’s going on. You can combine these keywords using so-called operators: AND, OR and NOT.
|OR||A OR B (broaden)
the search result can include either term A, B or both
|AND||A AND B (narrow)
the search result must include both terms
A NOT B (exclusion)
The keywords you come up with up yourself may not necessarily be the terms used in science. Subject databases use keyword lists from the academic field: key concepts. Take for example the following phrase: " Religious groups like to comfort ill people." Religious academics would replace the common term 'help' with the more relevant 'sensegiving'. Developing yourself as a reseacher means, besides many other things, that you get acquainted with the jargon in your field of research.
Remember, different databases use different keywords and truncation rules!
Rule of thumb: subject databases don’t all use the same keywords. It is always a good idea to check the database’s keyword list or a thesaurus. On the other hand, many databases will automatically recognize what you type, and provide you with alternatives. Also, you can check if the search terms you chose in your strategy match the keyword list.
When you are searching for relevant keywords, don't be satisfied too quickly. Also think of alternative terms, possible synonyms, opposites, etc. For instance:
To cover both plural and singular or different spellings, you may need to use special symbols to truncate a term or put in a wild card. Examples: organi?ation$ could mean organization, organizational, organizations or organisation, organisations, organisational. Check further explanation here. You may find different symbols in different databases. Therefore, check search tips in the database you are going to use which symbols apply.
Now you know where to search and how to do that. However this does not comprise the whole searching process. New issues may arise. For instance, searches can either provide too many hits or too few hits. Chances are that your search results force you to adjust your strategies. There are many ways to do this:
A general principle in science is to first make your subject more specific before you actually construct a search strategy. The linked Libguide explains which steps to take.
Once you have decided what to investigate, you need to narrow down the research to make your (re)search question more specific. You can do this by asking yourself five, simple, but effective questions, the so-called W-questions: who, what, where, when, why (and how).
For example take this research question:
Under what circumstances do business policies conflict with religious beliefs in religion based companies?
Each time you answer the question the search becomes more specific. Search question: To investigate under which circumstances business policies can conflict with religious belief
A search strategy could like like this:
AND and OR are written in capitals. This enables search engines to recognize these words as operators and not as part of a sentence.
Again, searching for information can result in an overwhelming amount of book- or article titles. On the other hand, not every title is as equally relevant or of the same quality. How can you determine which literature has higher status than others?
A couple of factors determine the quality of journals
Solid sources preferably have high impact factors. However, when determining the quality of an article keep in mind that:
To look up impact factors for the social sciences SSCI: