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SMCSE Literature searching

This guide is aimed at School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering students who are starting work on a literature review for their dissertation or project.

Planning your research project

This guide will take you through the different steps that you need to take in order to plan your research project effectively. Following these tasks will help to keep you on track, stay focused and manage your time productively.

Try to start to think about your project early to give yourself plenty of time and be prepared to be flexible in your approach.

Make a note of all the steps you have taken during this process, and this will help you focus on the development of your ideas and concepts.

You can use this as a basis to really hone your proposal and research your chosen subject effectively.     

Identify Keywords

Before you start to undertake your research, spend time thinking about your proposed topic. Take time to note down the main concepts and themes.

We can look at three examples here: 

  1. Security issues around the Internet of Things.

  2. Building to withstand earthquake.

  3. Is nuclear power more damaging to the environment than burning fossil fuel?

Find Alternative Keywords

Identify alternative keywords that have the same or related meaning as your key concepts. Try to include a wide range of synonyms. Not all search engines use a thesaurus structure to help you.

  1. Security issues - alternative concepts could be: security concerns or security challenges.
    Internet of Things - include abbreviations, IoT in this case.

  2. Earthquake - alternative words include tremor, quake, shock or convulsion. 
    Don’t forget there may be some alternatives such as earthquake-proof which may work for your search.

  3. Nuclear power - atomic power and nuclear energy. 
    Environmental damage - collateral damage, ecological debilitation, ecological deterioration.
    Fossil fuel -  non-renewable energy, petroleum, coal, crude oil.

Construct Your Search String

Finally, construct your search string – careful selection and combination of your keywords will help you save time and ensure you get the most relevant results. You may need to do several different searches to achieve the best results. 

  • Use AND,OR,NOT to combine or exclude concepts from your search.
  • Use brackets () to include alternative words.
  • You can search for alternative word endings and spellings by using an asterisk (*) as shown below.
  1. (internet of things or IoT) and security.

  2. (build* or construct*) and (earthquake or tremor) – the * will find all possible word endings, for example. builds, buildings, builders.

  3. ((nuclear power or atomic power) and (climate change or ecological deterioration)) and ((fossil fuel or non-renewable energy) and (climate change or ecological deterioration)).