Finding Information

Need some help finding the right information? Here’s where to start:

Effective searching

Now that you understand your topic, you’re ready to start finding some great resources:

Identifying keywords

Effective Database Searching 1Translate the topic question into the language of the sources used, and the level and type of information required. For example peer reviewed articles in an academic database such as ScienceDirect use technical, formal language. Newspaper, trade or popular articles found in a more general database like Newztext tend to use the language of the industry/jargon or everyday speech.

More on search strategies

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The animals in the above image can be described in various ways: cows (can also mean the mature female of other large animals, such as whales or elephants), bovines, cattle (does not imply gender like cow), dairy, beef, farm animals, etc. You don’t have to use every possible synonym in your search, just the ones that relate most closely to the context of your topic. For example, if the topic is focused on uses (e.g. beef or dairy), health (e.g. facial eczema), or has wider agricultural implications (e.g. the effect of intensive farming on the environment). If there is a specific term, such as mastitis, use that.

Try our tutorial on analysing the question and breaking it down into key words.

Sorting your results

After conducting a keyword search, you may find you need to narrow or broaden your search results. Facets are a great tool for this. You can select the type of resource you want, the publication dates and language, even limit your search to specific subjects or collections. Facets give you the power to include, or exclude, several types of results from your search, helping you locate the best information for your topic.

Try our tutorial on Database searching.

Where to look

Now that you have created an effective search strategy, it is time to see what you can find.

The following are good places to begin your search:

If you come across a resource that is not available through us, we may be able to get it for you through Interlibrary loans – a service for staff and post-graduate students. Or maybe you think the resource would be a good addition to our collection? If so, you can it suggest it for purchase.

Types of information sources

Features and academic usefulness of different information sources.

Books (Monographs)

Books usually provide an in-depth look at a fairly broad topic and will cover it in considerable depth with different chapters addressing specific sub sections of the topic.

The information in books is usually reasonably up to date at the time of printing but you should be careful with older books that progress hasn’t made the information obsolete and incorrect.

Books are good for getting a solid overview on the topic or you may find one specific chapter particularly relevant.

Textbooks are good as a starting place for theories and the overall structure of a discipline.

Journal Articles (peer reviewed articles, scholarly articles)

Journal articles are the main type of academic article used in higher education writing and research. Each article is on a very specific topic and looks into it deeply, usually with a review of how it fits into the wider discipline. Each article is published in a Journal which focusses on a specific discipline and some are more highly regarded than others.

Journal articles take a long time to publish and have to go through the peer review process so you will not find recent events discussed in them. It typically takes at least 18 months from starting to write the article to getting it published.

Journal articles should be used in nearly all assignments and are usually the bedrock of a good assignment.

Magazine articles (trade articles, industry articles)

Magazine articles are usually aimed at practitioners in a particular industry and are usually focused on issues and innovations in that industry.

They are usually fairly current at the time of publication with stories coming out a few weeks or months after an event. However they are not always subjected to the same level of scrutiny and polish as journal articles.

Magazine articles are good to use when you are looking for information on the current state of an industry or profession but they should be backed up with Journal articles as in most cases.

Newspapers and news sites

Newspapers and news site stories are good for very current events and for looking at how events are presented to the public.

These types of resources are very current when written, usually less than a week after the event. However it is rare for the stories to be updated with new information that is discovered over a week after the event.

These articles and stories are best used to confirm a specific fact about an event e.g. a bankruptcy date or to see how an event was portrayed to the public as it happened. However outside these uses you should be cautions about using them in your university writing and avoid relying on them excessively.

Encyclopedias and dictionaries (Reference books, Wikipedia)

These resources have brief descriptions (1 paragraph to 5 pages) of a topic giving an overview of the topic or providing a definition. Often provide a list of related articles which will give more depth.

These resources are usually current when written but print resources can date quite quickly and Wikipedia is not as accurate and reliable as it could be.

Unless you actually need a definition you should not include this type of information directly in your work at the university level. Instead you use these to help you understand the overall shape and structure of the topic to allow you to carry out more specific research.

Websites

remember to evaluate all websites carefully

Government and research

These websites contain a wealth of reliable and factual information and often contain original research reports.

Usually up to date these make good sources for your assignments and are almost as good as Peer reviewed articles in an academic setting.

Corporate and business

These websites usually want to sell you something or encourage you to invest in their company, so they can be slightly biased.

Can be useful for market share info, product information and looking at how the company presents itself to the world.

This sort of site can be used in your assignments, especially when doing business topics. They should not be relied upon as your primary source of information in most cases. 

Informal including social media

These sites are fun and friendly and the information on them is usually presented informally.

The accuracy and the reliability of the information is very low on most of these sites

Don’t use these sites unless you are writing about public perception of a topic or you are very sure of the reliability of the material.

If your lecturer says not to use internet resources this is the type of site they really want you to avoid!

 

Evaluating sources

So you have found some results that look useful?

Now you need to evaluate them as to whether they are appropriate resources for your assignment.

The following are some of the criteria you may want to consider in the evaluation of your resources:

Authority/Reliability

Questions to consider

  • Who wrote the resource?
  • What are their credentials, experience, background?
  • What else has this author written?
  • What is the author’s reputation among their peers?
  • Have you seen the author’s name cited in other sources or bibliographies?
  • Is the author associated with a reputable institution or organization?
  • Who is the publisher?
  • Is the publisher a commercial or academic organization?

Possible answers

  • Search the author’s name in a search engine such as Google.
  • Encyclopedias and Who’s Who can offer useful background information.

Objectivity

Questions to consider

  • Is there a particular bias?
  • Does the author state the goals of the publication, e.g. to educate or inform; persuade or advocate?
  • If the author is affiliated to a particular organisation, is this evident in the content?

Possible answers

  • Read the foreword, preface, abstract, introduction, or conclusion of the work

Content/Coverage

Questions to consider

  • Is the content central or peripheral to your topic?
  • Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?
  • Does it include photographs, illustrations, maps, or a bibliography?
  • Is there a geographical limit?
  • Is there an historical time period?

Possible answers

  • Look for possible gaps – does the content match the title of the resource or information in the introduction
  • Compare the resource to other sources found and explore a variety of viewpoints

Purpose/Relevance

Questions to consider

  • Does the work address your research topic or meet the requirements of your assignment?
  • Is the material primary or secondary in nature?
    Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources
  • Is the item considered scholarly or popular?

Audience

Questions to consider

  • What type of audience is the author addressing?
  • Is the publication aimed at a specialized or a general audience?
  • Is the source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your needs?

Possible answers

  • Check the table of contents, chapter headings etc
  • Read the preface, introduction and/or conclusion

Currency

Questions to consider

  • Is information current?
  • Does it provide the proper historical context for your research needs?
  • Has this source been revised, updated, or expanded in a subsequent edition?

Possible answers

  • Check the date of publication
  • If a web page check the date the page was created and/or last updated.

Try our tutorial on evaluating information and types of resources. You may also want to check out our tutorial on evaluating websites, which will teach you how to identify the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to information on the internet.

You may also which is consider this information about Measuring Research Impact

Peer review

Not all information is created equal. It’s important to consider where your information is coming from, and it’s validity in an academic setting. You need to make a distinction between scholarly and popular material. We’ve outline the most popular sources and their identifying features below:

What is peer review?

Peer review is a scholarly process whereby articles intended to be published in an academic journal are reviewed by independent experts to evaluate the importance, originality and accuracy of an article. The terms scholarly, peer reviewed and academic article are often used interchangeably.

How to identify peer reviewed journals:

Online tutorial

Popular magazines are written for a general audience and contain current news.

Trade magazines are written for professionals who need to keep up with important trends, techniques or product information in a particular field.

Scholarly journals are of academic standard, containing articles written by scholars or experts in their field, and are intended for a scholarly audience. The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report original research or experiments.

Note: Not everything published in scholarly journals is appropriate to use as a resource for research. Book reviews, editorials, or short news items do not count as “scholarly articles”.

Peer-reviewed journal is one very important type of scholarly journal. An article is published after receiving approval by a board of experts (the author’s “peers”) and is therefore referred to as a “peer reviewed” article. These experts will critically examine the article’s methodology, literature review, discussion, results, and conclusion.Note: Even though a particular journal is peer reviewed, an individual article in that journal may not be.

Databases

The majority of journals that you find in the Library databases are respected and many will be refereed, for example databases such as CAB, Web of Science, ScienceDirect, JSTOR are assumed to be scholarly.

Some of the databases allow you to limit your search to scholarly and/or peer-reviewed journals. Databases using Limit option include: Proquest databases; General OneFile; Expanded Academic ASAP.

Check with Library staff if you are unclear about which database to use.

Scholarly versus popular

See an outline of the features of scholarly popular and trade journals.
Peer-reviewed articles follow a certain format that includes an abstract, analysis of original research and a reference list. Opinion pieces and book reviews also appear in peer-reviewed journals so the format can help identify research articles. There is no comprehensive source for identifying all peer-reviewed journals.
• Refer to the journal itself, either in print or on the website. Most journals include that information in the guide for authors or editorial policies pages.
• Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory (Vol. 5), held in the Collection Management Office, lists the major peer-reviewed journals. (Not sure about this one)
Visit the online peer review tutorial or check with Library staff.
For more information on the peer review process refer to Peer review: a guide for researchers, from the Research Information Network, UK