If you’ve never been taught how to conduct scholarly research, finding academic journal articles can feel overwhelming when you first sit down to research your dissertation lit review, problem statement, and so on.
Many students resort to random browsing, but struggle to find journal articles that are relevant, timely, or both.
If this is you, then read on for my top two tips on how to improve your journal article search techniques.
Tip 1: Know what you are looking for.
It’s hard to effectively search for something if you don’t know exactly what it looks like.
That’s why it’s helpful to start your search process by taking a closer look at your topic and research questions. Here are three activities you can do before you begin searching to help you define what you are looking for.
Create an outline for the draft you are working on. What areas of the draft require support from secondary research? The outline will help you be more specific about what you are researching.
Create a list of keywords. These are the words that pin-point the topics you need information on. Remember – an article does not need to cover every aspect of your topic or question. You can stitch articles together to achieve full coverage. Therefore, your keyword list can zoom in on specific aspects of areas of your question or topic.
Brainstorm Synonyms. There is more than one way to say most things in the English language, so it’s not enough to work out your own keywords – you also need to work out how other researchers might have phrased it. The keyword “healthy eating” for me might be “optimum diet” for another researcher, causing me to miss their paper. Therefore, for each of your keywords, brainstorm as many synonyms as you can.
Tip 2: Learn how the search system works.
The search protocols in databases and even Google scholar were created by coders, not researchers, so you need to think like a coder and know the right codes to find the scholarly articles you are looking for.
These are known as Boolean operators. Here’s what you need to know.
AND – looks for records containing ALL search terms. It can be helpful when trying to find two concepts in the same source. It will yield fewer results, but higher relevance.
OR – looks for records containing any of the search terms. It can be useful when searching for synonyms. It will yield more results, but lower relevance.
* will search for any word that begins with the letters before the * (includes singular and plural, other endings, etc.). This will yield more results.
? can help you find various spellings of words, ex. Globali?ation will find globalization and globalisation. This will yield more results.
You can use quotation marks to search for specific phrases. This will yield fewer results, but higher relevance.