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Help to boost your grades

Researching information

If you need to produce a written assignment then it is important that the information that you present in your assignment is accurate, relevant, up-to-date and that it thoroughly answers the question.  Searching for quality information is an important skill.

Make sure that you understand the task! 
It is vitally important that you completely understand the question or assignment title.  You must be very clear about what is expected of you.  Take a look at Key words in Assignment Briefs at the top of this guide.  If you are in any doubt then don’t be afraid to ask your tutor for clarification. 

Plan your searches

Look at your assignment title / question and make a list of words and terms on which to base your searches.  Make a list of similar / alternative words that you may also use. To help with this you may wish to use a thesaurus, which is a book similar to a dictionary that actually lists words with similar meaning. You will find these in the college library. 

Indentify useful resources

A huge range of resources are available to you, everything from the familiar printed text books to special Internet-based services that the college has purchased for your use. 
To help simplify your task of identifying useful resources we recommend that you: 

  • Access the LibGuide for your particular area
  • Use the Library Catalogue
  • Use the Databases to find Articles. 
  • Use the  websites listed for your subject
  • Read the Trade journals for your subject to keep up to date with current industry practices.


To research articles for your subject; select the Databases and Journals tab.  There are two types of Databases available to you:


General Databases:

General databases are like searching in a shopping centre. They will cover a wide range of subjects and index a variety of publications including:  scholarly journals, newspapers, magazines:

Credo Reference is an example of a general database, it is a completely customisable general reference solution for learners and Tutors. Its full-text, aggregated content covers every major subject from the world's best publishers of reference. A selection of reference books including encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesaurus and books of quotations.  It allows you to create Mind Maps that will assist you with independent study.

Subject Specific databases:

Subject-specific databases are like independent shops. They specialise in a specific subject area and tend to include scholarly journals, book chapters, and dissertations.   Databases in certain fields such as business, may also include trade journals:

The IEEE Xplore digital library is a powerful resource for discovery of and access to scientific and technical content published by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and its publishing partners.
Mintel reports analyse market sizes and trends, market segmentation, along with customer attitudes and purchasing habits in Europe, the UK and the United States. Each report that Mintel publishes provides a unique overview of a market's dynamics and prospects
The on-line version of the 'Issues' series, this online reference source provides up-to-date information on contemporary social issues taken from a wide range of sources including newspaper archives, articles, key facts, government statistics, and key organisations.

Do they overlap with the general databases?
While there may be some overlap, subject-specific databases index the core journals for that area and provide more depth of coverage as compared to a general database.


Read the eResource / Database guide for the complete list 


Searching the Databases

When searching for information, use and/or to combine your terms.

Use AND to combine your main concepts, this will:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics

Use OR to combine similar terms, this will:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

Databases follow commands you type in and return results based on those commands. Be aware of the logical order in which words are connected when using And or OR

  • Databases usually recognise AND as the primary operator, and will connect concepts with AND together first.
  • If you use a combination of AND and OR operators in a search, enclose the word "OR" together in brackets.


  • ethics AND (cloning OR reproductive techniques)
  • (ethic* OR moral*) AND (bioengineering OR cloning)



Understand your search results

Hopefully, your search will return a list of results consisting of citations.  Sometimes you hit the jackpot with your first search, but often you will find that you need to modify your search.

Here’s a quick technique for modifying your search:

  1. From your results, find a relevant article
  2. Look in the subjects and abstract for the words they use
  3. Add these terms to your search


There are limits that you can apply to your search term.  If you know that you have a specific constraint--e.g., you can only use scholarly journals, you can apply that limit before searching.  Alternatively you may wish to search without limits; as this will greatly increase your results, view your results and then refine as needed.

Useful Limits

Full Text   This will limit your results to complete articles rather than an abstract.

Scholarly Journals    

  Limit results to items published in scholarly journals


  Limit to current years if required by an assignment or your topic requires up-to-date info.


  Limit to English, unless you are fluent in other languages.


Should I use this article?

You'll want to evaluate an article not only for its authoritativeness and reliability, but also for its relevancy to your topic and the requirements of your assignment.

Most of the information you will need will be available by looking at the detailed record for the item and reading the abstract.

Ask yourself:

  • Who are the authors?
  • What type of publication is this?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the date of the article?
  • How long is the article?
  • After reading the abstract, does this sound like what I'm looking for? 

And remember... Most databases have a feature that will generate a citation, check carefully when selecting the type of reference.

Website Information

Websites can be created by almost anyone, regardless of their academic / professional background.  They can also be created for various reasons other than simply to provide accurate and trusted information. 
Popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo can be very useful if used wisely, but they can produce many indiscriminate results. Sites like Wikipedia can also be useful but be aware that a lot of the information is not authenticated. 
For this reason, we strongly recommend that whenever possible you try to make use of those resources that are accessible via the college LibGuides. 
Evaluate Websites
When you do make use of general web sites you will need to be particularly careful to evaluate them to ensure that they are trustworthy. For each web site that you use, ask yourself the following questions 

  • Is it professionally managed 
  • Who are the authors
  • Is the information up to date
  • What is the purpose of the website


Using the information

We recommend that you refer to the guides for writing essays and reports that follow.  These will provide you with guidance on planning, structuring and writing your assignment. 
Reference your findings
Create a bibliography and citations, guides on how to use the Harvard Referencing system can also be found on the LibGuides 



            Harvard Referencing