Finding Information: The key to your search

Keys hanging on hooks on a piece of wood.

When it comes to finding academic information, there are a few things you need to think about before you start your search, such as where to actually look for information and the types of information you want to find in your search.  Another thing that is worth taking the time to think carefully about is keywords.

Keywords, sometimes called subject terms, are simple words and phrases that describe information; you can see them in the item record on Library Search and in Subject Databases.

An example of keywords from an article on Library Search
An example of keywords from an article on Library Search

The results that your search returns are based on this information – if your keywords match an item’s keywords, that item will appear in your results.

To get the best results, then, you’ll need to develop a balanced list of targeted keywords – these keywords may come from your essay title or research question, from your subject knowledge or wider reading – you can even borrow them from the subject terms you find on relevant articles!

As ideas and topics can be expressed in different ways you’ll also need to think about synonyms and terms related to your keywords to make sure you can find all of the relevant information.

To find out more about keywords, synonyms and searching take a look at this short video:

There are some useful tricks you can use with your keywords to save you time when you search, take a look at our Advanced Searching Guide to learn about Boolean, wildcards and truncation!

Finding Information: Types of Information

Light bulbs

In our previous blog we explored how looking for information in the right place can help save you time and effort.  However, sometimes, the right place to look can depend on what type of information you’re looking for.

While you’re probably familiar with books and you may have been introduced to journal articles, these are just two of the types of academic information available to you.  Depending on your research question or essay title you might also find it useful to explore, for example, conference proceedings, maps, company information or newspapers

Each type of information has its particular use; books provide an in-depth overview of a topic; journal articles are more specialised and focus in-depth on a particular area of a topic, and newspapers give you a useful perspective on events.  While Library Search can help you find a large range of information types, some types of information are only available in special databases or archives.  Before you start your search, it’s therefore important that you decide what types of information you will need to complete your assignment most effectively.  You can find out more about different information types on our Finding Information Guide and in the video below:

When you know which types of information you need for your assignment or project take a look at our Resource Guides, which provide useful links and guides to appropriate sources.

Finding Information: Knowing Where to Look

Photograph of several closed doors, one painted yellow the others painted white.

When you’re looking for information to help you write your essays, assignments or projects it can be tempting to turn to the source of information you use every day – Google.  While Google can be useful in some ways (such as finding company websites or journal author’s profiles), it wasn’t exclusively designed to help you find good quality, academic information that is reliable and relevant.  This means you’ll likely have to spend more of your time wading through huge amounts of information and fact-checking resources for accuracy.

Thankfully, Google isn’t your only option – there are a number of different places to look that have been created with the aim of providing you with the information that you need, such as your reading lists, Library Search, and key Subject Databases.

Take a look at this video to find out more about how these sources can help you:

For more help on finding information, take a look at our Finding Information Guide.

Self Care Week: Top Tips

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Self Care Week is the 16th-22nd of November this year and we don’t know about you, but we think the timing is just right? In the midst of yet another lockdown and having to study / work mostly online, it gives us a chance to stop, breathe and assess whether we really are doing all we can to look after ourselves. It’s so easy in the midst of pressures and worries to forget about looking after our own wellbeing isn’t it? However, it’s even more vitally important to do it just now. So in light of this, we thought we would highlight some of the services and resources available to you at Newcastle University and some of our own recommendations for establishing positive habits.

Student Health and Wellbeing

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Student Health and Wellbeing work with local and national organisations to help to maximise your academic potential and allow you to have the best possible experience while you’re studying. They offer advice and assistance on many topics, from spiritual support to mental health counselling. You can find self-help resources and information here. They are currently offering online services so do make the most of the support that’s there……..they really are some of the most skilled, approachable and nicest people we have met.

iNCLude

iNCLude is a free app aimed at helping develop positive behaviours to ensure you’re focussing on more than just academic studies. The app centres on several themes: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give. There’s space to record your feelings in a mood journal and information on campus wellbeing events through your personal feed. It’s available to download on android and apple devices so do check it out.

Silvercloud

Silvercloud is a suite of online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) programmes, which can be tailored to your specific needs. It is free and can be accessed anywhere on a PC, tablet or mobile phone. The modules on Silvercloud can be worked through at your own pace and a practitioner from Student Services can help you navigate through the programmes. To find out more and sign up, go to the Silvercloud website.

TalkCampus
TalkCampus is a new mental health service based around peer support, which comes in the form of a free-to-download app. It is perfect if you’re struggling and are worried about your mental health, as it enables you to talk with other students from around the world in a safe and secure way. All you need to gain access to this service is your student email address, but rest assured your identity and location is protected and no-one at Newcastle University will know if you’re using it or not. The app itself is moderated by the TalkCampus team and although it is not a replacement for student wellbeing services, it does help you to connect with other students going through similar issues to your own. It may be a stepping stone for you for getting more help or it might be sufficient in it’s own right. Do check it out if you think it could be of some help.

Be well@NCL

Be well@NCL is a collection of tried and tested books chosen in partnership with Student Wellbeing and other health professionals, so you know you can trust them. The books deal with issues that we all go through at some point in our lives, and even more so at the moment. Topics include stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems, eating disorders, depression, OCD, fears, bereavement and so much more. Find out more about our collection on the Be well@NCL website or on the iNCLude app. Some of the collection is accessible in eBook format, while others you can order and pick up through our Click and Collect Service.

Responsible studying

This year has been like no other hasn’t it? We are all having to adapt to this new world of Zoom, teams and online Canvas content and it can feel overwhelming and draining. We’ve tailored specific content within The Academic Skills Kit (ASK) website that helps develop positive study habits for these times, such as studying online, independent learning, motivation, time management, online assessment plus much more. Visit our website to see the range of advice and support available.

Rosie, a Library assistant at the Walton Library, is a fan of the Pomodoro Technique when studying. She says:

“This technique has changed my life! If you are a procrastinator and/or you’re easily distracted, you need to try it – you set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes, work hard on your task for that period and then reward yourself with a 5 minute break. After you’ve done that 4 times, take a longer break.

Breaking work up into chunks with rewards in between means that you get more done than if you try to work non-stop for hours, and it’s easier to start an assignment when you know you only have to work at it for 25 minutes at a time. This technique is better for your stress levels and mental health than beating yourself up for leaving assignments until the last minute.”

Creative activities
Taking a break from your work to do desk yoga, colouring in or origami is beneficial in the long run – it’ll help you increase focus, retain information and maintain top performance.

There’s a variety of activities you can do while taking a break from studying, for example:

  • Check out the online programmes put together by some of our schools, such as the visiting speakers’ programme from the Department of Fine Art, the live lunchtime concerts put on by our Department of Music or the literary events put on by the Newcastle Centre of Literary Arts.
  • Join a society run through the Students’ Union. These are a great way to meet new people (even if they have to be virtual at the moment). Check out the upcoming events on Students Union webpages and add activities to your diary.
  • Simply going for a walk, run, cycle can do you the world of good. Enjoy and breathe that fresh air.
  • Ring a friend or a family member and have a good chat. Connecting with others can make such a huge difference.
  • Learn a new hobby or pick up something that’s fallen by the wayside such as playing an instrument, drawing, crafting etc.

Stacey, a Library assistant at the Walton Library, likes to knit to improve her mental wellbeing. She says:

“The health benefits of knitting have been known for a while. A 2007 study conducted by Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute found that knitting lowers heart rate by an average of 11 beats per minute and induces an “enhanced state of calm,” as the repetitive movements release serotonin which can lift moods and dull pain.

Knowing this and gaining the ability to watch your toddler running around wearing clothes you’ve made is a wonderful feeling, as if you are covering your loved ones with wool and love – the only downside is cost (and explaining a million times it isn’t just for old ladies!) Knitting gives me that ‘enhanced state of calm’, or the ability not to be totally radgie ALL of the time, which is essential for my wellbeing.”

14 day self care challenge
It’s easy to read a blog like this and think yeah, yeah, I know what I should be doing but we often find it hard to put it into practice? Why not commit with us then to looking after yourselves better for the next 14 days and take the self care challenge, created by our lovely Library Assistant Rosie. We’d love to hear how you are getting on so do get in touch:

Image of 14 day self-care activities.

Evaluating Information: Choosing the Cream of the Crop

Field of Wheat

With the high volume of information available to you online when you begin your research, it can be difficult to know which of the sources you find to actually use in your assignments or essays.  Ultimately, you’ll want to choose the information that is of good quality and that can help you to answer your research questions most effectively.  This means you need to make some critical decisions about the information you have found.  Even if the materials you find are from reliable sources, such as Library Search or a Subject Database like Scopus you’ll need to consider how the information you’ve found compares to other information and if it is suitable for your purposes.

To help you make effective critical decisions you’ll need to think about these key areas:

Currency – is the information up-to-date?

Relevance – does it help you answer your research question?

Authority – who wrote it?  How qualified are the authors?

Accuracy – how did the authors of the information reach their conclusions? What evidence and data have they used?

Purpose – Why was it written?

The video below looks at these in more detail:

See our Evaluating Information guide for more advice on selecting suitable information for your assignments and for more on the ins and outs of critical thinking take a look at this great blog from the Writing Development Centre: Shopping Around for a Critical Opinion

Decoding your reading list

In the past few weeks you have probably been presented with module handbooks for everything you’re studying, with a list of references to things you are being told to read. Sometimes these will all be in the same referencing style and formatted in a way that you can understand easily what type of information it is. But sometimes, it might be more tricky to work out what exactly it is you are looking for. You can find yourself searching for a journal article, only to discover that it’s a book chapter, and you’ll never find it in a journal database.

If you are feeling a bit confused by your reading list, don’t worry. It’s a common problem and decoding references does get easier as you become more familiar with the referencing conventions of your subject.

There are some easy things to look out for in your references that will help you identify what type of information it is, and the key details, such as the author and title, that you would need to use in order to find it successfully. Take a look at the examples in the gallery to see what to watch out for.

Reference for a book in the Harvard style with the title in italics.
Reference for a book chapter in the Harvard style which includes the chapter and whole book title.
Reference for a journal article that includes the article title, volume and issue of the journal.
Reference for a website in harvard style which includes a url and accessed date.

Your reading list is also linked from your module course on Canvas. Individual items on your reading list will link through to Library Search, showing you print book availability and linking to e-book and e-journal full text wherever possible. This means you wont need to do a separate search.

Find out more about reading lists on the Library website.

Three Steps to Getting the Most from EndNote

Someone walking up metal staircase

If you’re writing a detailed essay, dissertation or thesis, reference management software such as EndNote can save you a lot of time and effort but only so long as you put in some time and effort to learn how it works first.

So let us help you get a head start with these three steps:

Step 1: Getting set up & practising the basics

Use our online workbook to get off on the right foot with EndNote; it will guide you through setting up your EndNote Library, adding references and using EndNote with Word.

You can watch this handy video from Clarivate for a visual demonstration too:

Step 2: Organisation from chaos

You’ve probably got a lot of records in your Library now so it’s time to get organised!  Take a look at these short guides and build up your EndNote expertise:

These tools will help you keep all your information together and make it easily accessible for step three…

Step 3: Now for the real magic

Now you’ve collected and organised your references, it’s time to put them to work for you using Cite While You Write in Word.  Watch this video from Clarivate to see how it’s done:

Some EndNote Extras

Keen to learn even more? Take a look at the EndNote Extras section of our EndNote Guide to find out how to merge documents and reference lists, how to share your Library with colleagues or how to find the full text PDF of an article from your EndNote Library.

Outside the Box

While the University has a subscription to EndNote and the Library offer some support to help you use it, there are other reference management software tools available.  Take a look at this FAQ to see some comparison charts that can help you decide which tool might be best for you!

Library Search: top search tips

Library Search is a powerful tool that can help you find good quality, relevant information quickly.  Using Library Search is pretty intuitive but there are some useful search tips that can help you improve and get the most out of your searches:

Keywords and Subject Terms

When you’re searching for information it’s important to use a range of related keywords to ensure you find everything relevant to your topic.  For example, if you’re searching for information on ‘Climate Change’ you might also want to search for ‘Greenhouse Effect’ or ‘Global Warming’ too.  Thinking of related keywords can sometimes be difficult but Library Search can help!

From your search results page, click on the title of a resource to open the resource record and scroll down to the ‘Details’ section.  Here you will find a list of ‘Subjects’, also known as subject terms, used to describe the topics and themes this particular resource discusses.  Take a look at this list and add any relevant words to your search string.

Screen shot of Library Search subject terms for climate change

There are some other useful features in the resource record page that can help with your searches too:

Browse the virtual shelf

At the very bottom of the record you’ll find a virtual bookshelf, a visual list of the books that can be found next to this one if you were looking in the physical library.  As the library is organised by subject some of these titles might be useful for your research too.

Screen shot of virtual shelf on library search

Read the abstract

A quick way to tell if a resource is going to be relevant and useful for your research is to read the abstract, a summary of the contents of the resource.  On the resource record in Library Search, you’ll find this under the heading ‘Description’.

Advanced Search

The Advanced Search function in Library search allows you to create a search that will produce more focused results.  It does this by providing a range of search fields and drop down lists that help you build up your search.

Screen shot of advanced search

Select from the options to:

  • Limit your search field to the title, author, subject, collection etc.
  • Apply BOOLEAN operators (AND, OR, NOT) to your keywords
  • Filter by specific material types, languages and dates to focus your search results to the most relevant resources.

Take a look at the Advanced Searching page on our Finding Information Guide for more on how to combine your keywords, create a search string and improve your search results.

Library Search: (the secret stuff?)

You know Library Search. You use it every day when you’re at University. Why are you going to read a blog post on it? Well, we’re wondering if you’re using Library Search to its full potential. Not sure? Then read on.

Library Search is Newcastle University Library’s discovery tool – essentially it’s how you find resources on the library shelves and access those invaluable resources online. But what else can it do?

An image of the Library Search login function.

Log in. Using your usual Campus ID and password, you can open up the full functionality of Library Search by telling it who you are. It allows you to:

  • Log into your library account to see what books you have on loan (which you may be finished with and could return to any library site), those requests you’ve placed and any books you have on loan that may have been requested by someone else. The standard library stuff, but it’s important too.

An image of Library Search's My Account function.

  • Save items you want to come back to (that’ll save you writing them down somewhere else). Find that favourite item and ‘pin’ it to your record. You can then access a list of your favourite books, journals or journal articles and label (or tag) them as to why you may need them, e.g. Herbology, Professor Snape’s essay, or Field Trip to Hogsmeade. That makes it easy to see what you need to use for each lecture, seminar or assessment.

An image of the Library Search Favourites tool.

  • Permalink. You can share an item with someone if you want to – copy the permalink to the clipboard and send it to someone you know may be interested.

An image of Library Search's permalink tool.

  • Save your search. If you need to repeat your search then save it within Library Search so you don’t need to remember the keywords and connectors (AND, OR, NOT) sequence. This is important if you are scoping a search and need to record or change your approach. You can also ‘Personalise’ your results to a particular discipline – give it a try!

Animage of the Library Search Save Search and Personalise tool.

  • Set up a RSS Feed (yes, really!). The Rich Site Summary function allows you to be informed of changes to results in your saved searches. Handy, eh? Go to your Saved Searches and simply click the RSS icon.

An image of Library Search's RSS feed tool.

  • Receive an email alert when there are new results for your saved search. This can save you time in your research as Library Search will inform you if there is a new publication available which matches your search terms. Switch it off when you move onto a new subject area by accessing your Favourites list and deselecting the alarm bell icon.

An image of Library Search's email notification tool.

Finally, if you’re writing up your assignment and can’t remember the essential elements of a reference, then use Library Search for guidance. The Citation tool will allow you to view a suggested citation and to copy it to your clipboard for use in your work.*

An image of Library Search's Citation tool.

*BUT (you knew that was coming, didn’t you) ensure you choose the correct style and check your citations for accuracy before including them in your work. It pays to know your required referencing style and not to rely on automated or generated references. If you want to learn more about referencing then see our Managing Information guide and Cite Them Right. Cite Them Right is a great resource which will remind you of the importance of referencing, how to reference and will give guidance on how to cite those more tricky materials such as conference papers, newspaper articles, social media posts and more. Finally, there’s a new tutorial with lots of interactive questions so you can test yourself too.

If you know of any tips or tricks in Library Search that aren’t mentioned here, then leave us a comment and share them!

Library Search: what is it and how do I use it?

Library Search is Newcastle University’s library catalogue. But it will give you more than just information on where to find books on the shelves! It’s our power search system and looks inside many of our subscription journals and databases, to retrieve articles, conference papers, news items and more. It is the basic way to begin any literature search.

If you can spare a few minutes then watch these short videos to learn just what Library Search can do for you: