Finding Information: Troubleshooting your search results

Photograph of tools, including a hammer, spanner and measuring tape, laid out on a table

You’ve ran your information search and looked at your results with a critical eye only to find that they’re not quite working for you – what can you do now?

In this blog we’ll be looking at the top three problems encountered when searching for information and how to improve your search to get the results you need:

Finding too much

If your search has brought back thousands of results and you’re getting overwhelmed with the options:

Search a more specialised resource

Using a subject-specific database will help narrow the focus of your search to your particular areas of interest.  Take a look at your Subject Guide to find databases and eBook collections tailored to your subject area.

Apply limits

Make use of the ‘refine’ options usually found on the left-hand side of Library Search or your subject database.  Limit your results by date, subject area or information type.  Remember, you may need to justify your limits to your supervisor so think carefully about your choices. 

Combine search terms with ‘AND’

AND is a Boolean operator, a term you can use to have more control over your search. If you want to find information that must contain two different keywords (or phrases), place a capitalised AND operator between them. Your search engine or subject database will only find information that features both, narrowing your results. The more search terms you combine with AND, the narrower your search will be.

Finding too little

If your search has brought back a handful of useful articles but you need a wider range of results:

Combine terms with ‘OR’

OR is another Boolean operator that helps you to control your search more effectively.  Use OR with your search terms that have synonyms or related terms. Your search engine or subject database will find information that features either word or phrase, significantly broadening your results.

Try controlled vocabulary

If you’re not getting enough results, it may be that your search terms or keywords aren’t quite working for you.  Controlled vocabulary are a standardised list of words and phrases used on some databases to ensure that searches retrieve all relevant results, even when authors use different terms. Examples of databases that use this technique include ERIC, PsycInfo, CAB abstracts, Compendex and Medline. If these apply to you and your discipline, you’ll find out how to use them on your Subject Guide.

360 Searching

If you’ve found some useful articles, one simple way to find more relevant material is to take a look at the references used by the authors.  This will lead you to find older material that was published before your original article which may also be useful.  Library Search and some subject databases including Google Scholar and Scopus also allow you to see who has cited the articles you have found in their work (look for the ‘cited by link’).  This is called citation searching and allows you to find more up-to-date analysis of your topic.  By looking back at the references and forward at the citations, you get a 360 degree view of the research.

Finding nothing useful?

If your search has brought back results that aren’t relevant to your research question or you are finding it difficult to find the right search terms or databases to use, you might find it helpful to book a one-to-one appointment with your Liaison Librarian.

You can also find more help and advice on our Finding Information Guide.

Can’t find the book you need?

There will be times when you simply can’t find the book or eBook you need. So what then? First rule of thumb, is don’t panic. From the book already being out on loan, to us not having a copy of it in stock, there are lots of different avenues that you can pursue. Our ‘Can’t find your library resources?‘ webpage is a great place to start.

After that, you may need to think more creatively and flexibly. Watch the video below for our top tips to thinking outside the box to finding what you need.

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.

Spotlight on Compendex

Compendex is one of the best places to go when searching for engineering literature. It provides peer-reviewed and indexed publications with over 20 million records, from 77 countries, across 190 engineering disciplines.

The database includes not only journal articles, but also articles in press, trade magazines, book series, dissertations, as well as a wealth of conference proceedings and conference papers, which are so important in scientific research. In addition, it also includes all technical standards from IEEE.

To access Compendex, you can either go through Library Search or alternatively it may be listed under ‘Journal’s and Database’ section in your library subject guide.

Watch this quick introduction to see Compendex in action.

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.

Spotlight on Scopus

Have you ever found yourself asking any of the questions below?….

  • Where can I find relevant, high quality information for my research?
  • How can I track who has cited an article since it’s publication, as well as looking back on the references it used?
  • How can I follow an academics work?
  • Who can I collaborate with in my research?
  • Which journal should I submit my paper to?
  • Where can I find information to support my research funding application?

…..If you have, then why not take a look at Scopus and use it as your starting point? You can access it through Library Search or through your subject guide in the ‘Journals and Databases’ section.

Whatever subject you are studying, Scopus is one of the databases that you need to get to know. It is a large multi-disciplinary abstract and citation database of peer reviewed literature. It contains over 69 million records, including journal articles (from 22,000 titles), conference papers, books (20,000 new book details added every year) and book chapters. However, it doesn’t just have a list of results for you to wade through, but it has a series of smart tools which help you track and visualise the research as well. You can search for documents, sources, authors and institutions and compare and contrast them using a variety of different tools.

If you are wondering if Scopus is for you, then check out the video below. And if you are already a user of Scopus, then why not listen to one of their webinars to get the best out of the resource or check out the Scopus blog for tips and tricks. Happy exploring!

See Scopus basic search in action.
Scopus is an excellent resource to use to help you expand your search by focusing on specific authors and cited reference searching.

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

Where to find Standards?

This small, but beautifully formed Standards Resource Guide will give you all you need to know about what standards you can access whilst at Newcastle University.

Standards are codes of best practice containing technical specifications and guidelines. They are used to ensure uniformity and consistency, reliability and safety and provide a quality benchmark.

We have full text access to all current BS, ASTM and IEEE standards.

Many ISO and EN (and some IEC) standards also have BS equivalents and are available online too.

To support teaching and research, we also purchase a small number of individual standards from other organisations (e.g. ASME, API, etc). These are usually available in hard-copy and you can find their shelfmarks on Library Search.

If you need a particular standard for your research, dissertation, or to support your teaching, please contact the SAgE Library Liaison team for advice (lib-sage@ncl.ac.uk) or use the Books on Time service to ask us to buy it.