Literature searches cause students a lot of anxiety and your Information Librarians have been discussing why this is. . . .
We’d like to present the Ten Commandments of Literature Searching in an attempt to guide people through dilemmas they may not even be aware of!
Don’t try to do a ‘perfect’ search. Be happy with a search which gets you enough for the assignment you are working on. ‘Perfect’ searches are virtually impossible to do, so don’t worry if yours is only ‘adequate’.
Look for things you can use, not for things which ‘give the answers’. Lecturers will give you more credit for references which display a range of reading than for multiple references to an item which has ‘the answer’ in it . . .
Look at the numbers of items your searches retrieve. Big numbers (1,000’s of items) mean your search is too sensitive – try to make it more specific (10’s of items). If the first line of your search retrieves only 10’s of items, see what happens if you make use of more general keywords – remember you are looking for things you can ‘use’ . . .
Don’t try to put the title of your assignment into a search box – it will be too specific (!) Try the keywords one by one; then combine 2 keywords, and then combinations of 2 different keywords, then 3 keywords, etc. Look to see how big the totals you are retrieving are – use these totals to decide whether your searches need to be more sensitive or more specific.
Document your searches, i.e. print pages showing the numbers of items retrieved and add them to your assignment as an appendix. Be prepared to discuss these searches with your tutor/peers/mentors etc. If they suggest other titles etc. – try to be pleased (?!) . . .
Enjoy your searches. Good searches explore a subject and you will be learning all the time you are doing them. But you’ll be miserable if you try to do it in a panic when your assignment is overdue.
If you are struggling, ask someone who knows more; don’t waste hours . . . ask your tutor, UoG Librarians, Hospital Librarians, fellow students . . .
Be prepared to do more than one search. As you search you learn; as you learn your searches change. You can stop and start again (actually, you are never going to get away with only one search).
Check what databases are available. Should you be using a different database?
If you ignore the above, because you know it all – then come and tell us! We are always eager to learn how to do perfect searches . . .
Robert Mackney (Care Sciences Librarian)