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Surveying: Journals & Databases

Recommended article databases and tutorials

Search across four multi-disciplinary products - ProQuest Central, Academic Complete, Academic Video Online and ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

More specialist Surveying databases

New Zealand databases

Search Tutorials for Various Databases

Recommended Journal

NZ Surveyor Journal

This journal is a technical, refereed journal published by S+SNZ containing material of an academic and technical nature. It includes a variety of papers covering recent legislative reforms, research, technology advances and conference papers supporting continuing professional development of members. 


Getting started finding scholarly articles

'Academic' AKA 'scholarly' sources of information are authoritative and of high quality. You should be primarily using this type of information for your assignments.

The main types of academic sources are:

  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Published reports

Start discovering the academic material that the library has purchased or subscribes to, via the following ways:

  • Library Search | Ketu is the library catalogue. You can use this to discover our print and e-resource collections, including, books and e-books, and online journals and articles.
  • Subject specific databases. Use these to find peer-reviewed journal articles that are specific to your discipline.

A journal is a periodical magazine or newspaper, published regularly, and on a particular topic.

There are different types, including:

  • Scholarly journals (primarily aimed at researchers/academics),
  • Trade journals (which are industry specific), and
  • Popular journals AKA magazines (which are for the general public).

During your time at University you will need to use information form a range of high quality, scholarly/academic journals. Being able to identify relevant sources, understand their scholarly value, and whether they have been through a formal peer review process, is vital.

Take a look at this comparison table from the Library at the University of Washington, Tacoma, which breaks down the differences between types of sources.

Popular and Scholarly: What's the difference?

Peer review is used to maintain quality standards, improve performance, and provide credibility.

  • In academia, it is used to determine an article’s suitability for publication.
  • Experts in a field (AKA our ‘peers’), and journal editors, scrutinise an article before publication in an academic journal, and based on this, they might reject the article, or ask the author to make revisions.
  • The process lets users of the article know that the research within is generally of high quality.

For more information about this process, watch this video.

A database works the same way as a search engine (like Google), but library databases are different because they only have particular information in them.

The main type of information in the library databases is:

  • Journal articles, abstracts, conference papers, figures & tables,
  • And sometimes theses, books, maps, data sets, reports etc.

What is in each database depends on where it draws it’s information from, e.g. what collection(s) of journals it has access to the information from.

For more information:

All databases can be searched with keywords, but some databases also use Subject Headings.

Subject Headings are examples of 'controlled vocabulary'; which is standardised language used to describe a specific term, and which can help us to find relevant articles on our research topic.

  • We can enter keywords into the database and map them to Subject Headings.
  • The articles in the database are indexed according to Subject Headings.
  • Looking at what Subject Headings a database uses can also give us tips for searching in keyword-only databases.

PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Embase & ProQuest all use Subject Headings.

Complete this short module for more information on what subject headings are and how to use them.

Creating a search strategy

Many of the library databases, and the other search engines we use to find information, are very large, e.g. Web of Science contains over 90 million records.

We need to plan our search in order to find good quality and relevant information.

The information under each tab in this box will show you how to break down your topic, and use symbols and operators in order to conduct effective searches in the library databases.

Developing a search strategy before searching, will save you time, and provide you with better results.

Use the attached worksheet to help with your planning.

Start with your topic or research question.

Pull out the key words, ideas, or concepts, and write them across your page.

Under each main idea - list related terms, synonyms, & alternative spellings, for example:

Do some basic research on your topic to help you figure out some key words. At this stage it is okay to use online dictionaries, Wikipedia etc., just to get a ‘feel’ for your topic, find synonyms, and to make sure your spelling is correct.

If you need some reference resources, check out the ones listed in this guide in the reference resources box under the 'Books' tab.

Use Boolean operators ‘AND’, ‘OR’, & ‘NOT’, to combine and exclude keywords, in order to get more focused and productive results.

  • Connect all your related terms with OR to broaden your search.
  • Connect main ideas with AND to narrow your search.
  • Use NOT sparingly and only in particular ways e.g. if your search results include a lot of studies on pregnant women and you want to exclude those results.

We write Boolean terms in capital letters so the database can differentiate them from regular conjunctions.

AND narrows, OR broadens, NOT excludes.

Use double “quotation marks” to group words together to search effectively for phrases and eliminate unwanted results.

  • Databases work logically, we need to let them know that we want to search phrases as a concept, not just as individual words.

  • Grouping individual terms into a phrase, where appropriate, helps us get more targeted search results.

Use truncation symbols to include multiple word endings and alternative spellings.

  • For example, coast* will search for the words; coast, coasts, coastal, etc.
  • The asterisk or star symbol * is the usual truncation symbol, however other symbols are sometimes used for this purpose, or as a wildcard symbol to find singe letter variations of words.
  • For example, wom?n, will search for women and woman, and in some databases you use $ or # for the same purpose.

NB: Truncation is not accepted in all databases, e.g. Google Scholar.

If a database doesn't use particular truncation or wildcard symbols it will let you know once you conduct a search.



NB: You will likely have to further refine your search, so don’t expect it to be perfectly formed the first time.

Many databases will allow you to build your search using an ‘Advanced search’ feature.

And/or allow you to ‘build’ your search by adding rows connected with Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT.

If there is no search builder, you can enter all your search terms into one search field by using brackets to group your concepts.

  • Think of it like writing a math equation.
  • Take note if the database has particular rules for searching, e.g. if it does not accept truncation (e.g. Google Scholar does not).

Your search will likely not be perfect, or even sufficient, the first time you do it.

Researching is a process; you have to refine & repeat your searches, in order to get the most relevant results.

Tips for refining your search

Searching is a process.

This box will give you some ideas on what to do if you have created and executed a good search strategy, but you are still not happy with the number of results you have, or if you think you can further refine your results, but are not sure how.

For tips on evaluating your search results, check out the 'Assess your findings' and the 'Evaluating information: additional resources' boxes on this guide.

If you get too few results:

  • Check you spelling, check for alternative spelling.
  • Can you add more synonyms or related terms?
  • Can you remove a concept or two? (Remember, AND narrows your search.)
  • Is this an appropriate database for your topic?
  • Do you need to look at other sources?
  • NZ research may not be in the ‘big’ databases.
  • Is your topic a developing or niche field? There may not be much published literature available yet on your topic.

Regarding the last few points on this list, you may have to search some other places to find research, like repositories & websites, to find non-published 'grey literature'. You might want to try some of the resources listed on the 'More Resources' page on this Subject Guide.

Alternatively, try searching some of the other databases that are listed in related subject guides, or on the library databases list.

If you get too many results:

  • Re-evaluate the meaning of your keywords.
  • Re-evaluate the number of related terms used. (Remember, OR broadens your search.)
  • Can you add another concept? (Remember, AND narrows your search.)
  • Try filtering your results, using the database tools. (See the next tab in this box.)

You can refine your search results further by using the database features.

  • Many databases will let you filter by the following; year, language, resource type, country, research method, etc.
  • When you first search a database, the results might be listed by newest article first ('date'). Change the results to be ordered by ‘relevance’ AKA ‘best match’, to get the most relevant articles first.
  • Library hack: do some reverse engineering. Once you have found a good article or two, search for the article title on several different databases, and look at the abstract/description, and the other information included about it (like the subject headings and author keywords). This will not only help you to refine your search strategy, it will also lead you directly to the article's references (looking back at the research that was used for this study), and citations (looking forward at the research that was inspired by this study).

For more searching tips, check out some of the other boxes on this guide, like ‘Finding books in the library’, 'Getting started finding scholarly articles’, and the tutorials in the ‘Recommended article databases and tutorials’ box.

Assess your findings

Evaluating and thinking critically about sources of information are important skills to develop and apply while undertaking research.

Not all information is reliable and appropriate for academic work, and not all information is relevant to your particular topic.

You should challenge and reflect on information that you find; don’t just accept everything you read.


Work through this tutorial to develop your skills in evaluating information that you find online:

SIFT - Evaluating Information Tutorial


Even though the library databases are good sources of information, we still need to evaluate that information before we decide to use it. You can do this by asking the following questions:

  • Is the information relevant to your topic?​
  • Who are the authors, are they experts in the field? Who do they work for? What else have they written?​
  • What evidence is given, what references are given, and what methodology is used?​
  • How is the study funded? Is there a bias?​
  • When was the information written, is it still relevant? Has it been updated or amended in light of new evidence?


For more information and resources, check out the ‘Evaluating information: additional resources’ box at the bottom of this page.

Evaluating journal articles

As you look at your search results you will notice that the articles will have some differences, based on what type of research method the authors have used, and the type of research they are presenting.

There are different types of journal articles, the main ones you will come across are:

  • Review articles – comprehensively summarise other’s research on a particular topic. Click here for an example.
  • Original studies - report on data from research using a variety of different methodologies, e.g. observational studies, surveys, interviews, experiments using randomised controlled trials etc. Click here for an example.
  • Case studies – report on specific instances or experiences. Click here for an example.

You can usually assess what type of study an article is by reading the abstract.

However, you will have to look at the entire article to assess the quality of the research.

Use the tabs in this box to find out how to evaluate different parts of an academic article.

As you look at the article, pay attention to the following aspects:

The introduction

  • This is where an author puts their statement of intent for their study, it might come, for example, in the form of a problem to be solved.
  • Authors will describe background research they have done, that has helped them develop an intention to solve a problem, based on a gap in the current research.
  • You should consider if the research they cite is current and a reliable interpretation, and consider if their ‘problem to be solved’ is clear and testable.

The method

  • Are the subjects of the research/study relevant and appropriate?
  • Is the instrumentation and/or testing procedures appropriate and properly described?
  • Is the study ethical/approved?
  • Is the design of the study and the ways it will be anaylsed, sufficient?

The results

  • Do the results relate to the intention of the study and do they evaluate the ‘problem to be solved’?
  • Are all results presented, or if not, is there a satisfactory reason given why (e.g. it contains sensitive information)?
  • Is the way the results are presented appropriate, e.g. are there accurate and complete tables and figures?

The discussion

  • Is there a discussion of the results?
  • Does the discussion relate back to the original intention of the study?
  • Are the conclusions given supported by the results?


  • Are references in the correct format, all cited in-text, and all correct?

NB: You can not only trace back to more research by using the references in an article, you can also use the references to back up the validity of statements given.

Finding full text

'Article Link' helps you access full-text research articles in databases that the University of Otago Library subscribes to, and in Google Scholar (when you access it via the library website). 

You may see Article Link represented as:             

       or      Article Link

If we don't hold it in our library, we can usually get it for you!

Borrow books and get copies of articles, from other libraries, via our free interloans service.

Look for the 'Interloan' button at the bottom of the search results screen in Library Search | Ketu:

For help, check out the interloans webpage.

Use the links in Library Search | Ketu to both request an interloan, and to report issues with electronic access:

'Report an issue with this title' is a way to report issues with electronic access, or you can email the e-resources team.

Save your search results

Some databases allow you to save your search results and set up search alerts.

  • You will have to create an account in each database.
  • Save your searches to re-run them in the future, or as a way to save your references.
  • Set up a search alert to be notified if new research is added to the database that is relevant to your topic.
  • You can also 'follow' authors in this way, and get a notification when they have an article published.

For tips and informational on how to do this in specific databases, check out the Keeping up-to-date with research library guide.

For more information about saving your references, check out the Managing your references library guide.

Evaluating information: additional resources

Here are some resources to help develop your evaluating skills:

  • For a simple 'commonsense' approach to evaluating claims made by the news media, read this short article by Doug Specht & Julio Gimenez from the University of Westminster, and pay close attention to the 6 'steps for reading like a scientist'.
  • If you need to verify a claim, you can check it on a fact-checking website. Check out this guide to Fact Checkers, curated by the University of California Berkley Library, for ideas on what websites to use if you are not sure.
  • Work through this excellent module on 'evaluating information and critical thinking' created by The University of Sheffield Library.
  • Check out this fun, short, easy game, created by a Canadian civics charity organisation 'CIVIX'. The game is designed to improve your verifying sources skills, by teaching you tricks for checking a claim, a source and an image: FAKEOUT