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Finding Information

How to plan your searches and keep up to date with information in your subject area.

Finding and using good quality information from a wide variety of sources in your work is an important skill that demonstrates your subject knowledge and your ability as a critical thinker.

To help you, the Library provides access to a wide range of high-quality resources that are accessible via Library Search and your subject guide.

Below you’ll find advice on how to search and access our eBook and online journal collections, as well as tips on how to plan your search and keep up to date with information in your subject area.

Plan your search

Planning your search is an important first step when looking for information, especially when you are engaged in independent study and focusing on online information sources. It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available or find yourself wandering away from your topic area. Having a sense of the questions you are trying to answer and the type of information you are hoping to find, will help make information searching more manageable.

Follow these four steps to create your search plan:

Step 1:  Define your search question/topic and set limits on your search.

Step 2:  Break your topic down into key themes or concepts.

Step 3:  Build a bank of topic keywords and synonyms for your main concepts.

Step 4:  Plan where you are going to look for information by identifying the information types you need.

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The Search Planner

If you are working on a dissertation or project, our Search Planner tool can guide you in gathering your ideas about the types of information you want to find and where you should look.  It will also help you to break down your search topic into concepts, then translate those into keywords that you can use in your search. 

You have the option to send your Search Planner to your Liaison team, who can offer feedback on your search terms and suggest relevant resources for your topic.

Choosing where to search

There are several useful search tools available to help you find academic information, so think carefully about which tool is best for helping you find the information you need. You may need to search in more than one place to find all the relevant information for your research.

Your reading list will be your first port of call, as it provides quick links to relevant books, articles, eBooks or chapters selected by your module leader.

Library Search, the Library’s catalogue, is an excellent place to start your independent research, as it covers all subject areas and a range of information types. 

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Your subject guide is a useful tool for finding databases, resources and eBook collections oriented towards your subject area that will help you focus your search, and the Library’s resource guides can help you find information of a specific type.

Depending on your area of study, Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives catalogue could be an invaluable search tool too. The Primary Sources Planner, developed by our Special Collections and Archives team, is full of useful guidance, and will take you through the necessary steps to help you find and use primary source materials.

If you find you need to search beyond our Library, you can explore UK national, university and specialist libraries via Library Hub Discover or explore library collections from around the world using WorldCat. For archives, try Discovery, Archives Hub, ArchiveGrid or Archives Portal Europe.

Depending on the type of information you’re looking for, Google and Google Scholar may also be useful in your search.  However, it’s important you’re aware of some of the pros and cons of using these search engines so that you can use them effectively. Our Google vs Google Scholar vs Academic Databases guide can help get you started.

Performing a search

Now you've built up a balanced list of keywords and identified the types of resources you need, it's time to begin your search.

It's usually best to start simple, searching with one or two of your keywords before trying different combinations and synonyms to see what returns the most relevant results. Successful searching takes time but there are lots of useful search techniques  that you can use to make your search more effective and save you time.

Once you have a set of search results, you'll need to carefully evaluate them to check that your search was successful, and to select the resources that are most relevant to your topic. Reading the abstract or scanning introductions and conclusions, can help you get a quick sense of key points and arguments.

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Evaluating your search 

If you find that some or all of your search results are not relevant or appropriate to your needs, it’s important that you pause and extend your criticality from the material itself to the search that you carried out.  It may be that part of your search plan needs to be changed to improve your results.

Consider the following questions: 

  • Are you searching on the right databases? Are there other databases you could try?
  • Is a particular type of information missing from your plan? 
  • What keywords and search techniques did you use? Are there alternative synonyms or search combinations you could try? 
  • What has worked successfully with your search? Why did it work well?
  • What lessons have you learned along the way? 

Remember literature searching is not a linear process and you need to be willing to review and adapt your search plan as you go to ensure you find all the information you need to successfully answer your search question.  

Finding Resources Podcast

In this episode of our podcast series, created by Eszter Racz and the Academic Skills team at Newcastle University, we discuss finding resources. We talk to students about the various methods they use to find good quality resources, and our experts share tips and tricks to help you manage your information searches.

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review uses systematic methods to exhaustively collect, evaluate and synthesise all available information on a research question.  Systematic reviews come in many shapes and sizes and vary between subjects.  Complex questions can involve large teams of researchers and can take months to complete, while smaller reviews can involve one or two people independently screening results.   

Systematic reviews are highly intensive, and it may be that an alternative review method that applies systematic rigour, such as systemised, critical, or scoping review, will be more suited to your purposes. Resources and time will influence what type of literature review you can complete.

Recommended books and e-books

For further reading related to finding information, browse our specially curated list of resources.