'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:
Start discovering the academic material that the library has purchased or subscribes to, via the following ways:
A journal is a periodical magazine or newspaper, published regularly, and on a particular topic.
There are different types, including:
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.
Peer review is used to maintain quality standards, improve performance, and provide credibility.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Use truncation symbols to include multiple word endings and alternative spellings.
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.
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.
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.
If you get too few results:
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.
If you get too many results:
You can refine your search results further by using the database features.
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.
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:
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:
For more information and resources, check out the ‘Evaluating information: additional resources’ box at the bottom of this page.
'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.
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:
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:
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.
Some databases allow you to save your search results and set up search alerts.
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.
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.
Here are some resources to help develop your evaluating skills: