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Library Services for Research

An overview of the services available via City's Libraries for Masters students, PhD students, postdoctoral and academic staff.

Preparing Your Search

Before you begin your Literature Search you should take some time to consider exactly what it is you are searching for. Taking your time and preparing your search will save you time in the long run as it will ensure that the studies you find will be relevant to your research topic.

These are the main steps involved in preparing your literature search:

Establish your scope or parameters

These are the boundaries that decide exactly what information you want to retrieve from your literature search and ultimately allow you to decide whether a study you find should be included or excluded from your literature search results.

In order to establish your criteria you will need to define each aspect of your question very clearly to clarify exactly what you wish to focus on and consider if there are any variations you also wish to explore.

To help define your question you should select what you think are the main concepts of the topic.

Using this topic as an example:

'Student experiences of learning support provision for study skills in Universities'

the main concepts of the topic would be:

  • student experience
  • learning support
  • study skills
  • Universities

Your Inclusion and Exclusion criteria will apply to each of these concepts e.g.

Students- do you want to examine all types of student i.e. undergraduate, postgraduate, part time, full time, distance learners etc. or focus on a particular type of student.

Learning support- do you want to examine all types of learning support or focus on a specific type of support e.g. workshops, tutorials, online guides etc.

Study skills- do you want to cover all study skills or focus on a particular skill e.g. essay writing, information literacy etc.

Universities- you would need to decide if you only want to focus on Universities or broaden your search to all types of Higher Education.


Other things you may need to consider include:

- location and context – i.e. do you want to focus only on UK Universities or world wide?        

- study design- i.e. will your search focus on quantitative or qualitative studies, a mixture of both or a specific type of study.

Finding relevant search terms

The majority of your literature search will be performed using online resources, such as bibliographic databases. This will involve entering search terms into the resource to retrieve related information. For each of your search concepts you need to find as many related search terms as possible in order to ensure that you find all the research which has been produced on your research topic.Your inclusion and exclusion criteria will determine how many related terms you may find.

For the concept student experience, using only this term will limit how many relevant results you find. You would need to use other terms such as student opinions, student perceptions, student views, student attitudes etc. in order to find as many relevant studies as possible.

Similarly, for the concept learning support you could also use terms for how support is provided e.g. training, workshops, tutorials etc. and for the concept of study skills you would need to use terms covering the various types of skills e.g. information literacy, essay writing etc. to broaden your search.

Some tips for finding related search terms

  • Use an online thesaurus
  • If you have found some useful articles relating to your topic browse their reference lists and look for terms which have been used in the titles of other studies.

Practical resources

You may wish to use a mind map or a search template to assist you in visualising or planning your search terms in relation to each other or to consider how you may combine them together.