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Sussex Library Search Skills Guide

Starting your search

male student with headphone on, writing in a notebook.

Where to search

To get started with your search, you need to have a clear understanding of what you are being asked to research, write about, or answer. This will impact where to search for the information you need.

Library Search is the Library's online discovery tool, and a good place to start with any search. It gives to access to ebooks, articles, dissertations, newspapers, and other similar content. Visit the Library Search videos tab to learn more about how to search most effectively. 

The library also subscribes to hundreds of specialist online resources. They include databases like JSTOR, Scopus, and Web of Science. You can search these specialist database by clicking the Online Resources A-Z tab on the Library homepage. Alternatively, if you are unsure which resource fits best with your search, take a look at your subject guide, which collates all the online resources relevant to your subject area.

student reading a book

Define your topic

To get started with your search, you need to have a clear understanding of what you are being asked to research, write about, or answer. 

Consider the following:

What is the focus of the question?

What is your understanding of this topic?

What is your research question trying to address?

cork notice board with post-it notes on it

Search with keywords not sentences

Search engines like it best when you use keywords or phrases, rather than sentences when searching. Break down your topic or question into a few keywords.

For example, if your topic was: 

"Discuss the prevalence of cheating in exams at University".

Your keywords would be: 




cork pin board with post-it notes on it

Use synonyms 

Search engines only search the exact words you input.

It's important to search a variety of search words, as not every author will use the exact same words that you have chosen to search.

For example:

Searching "assessment" as well as exams

searching "colleges" as well as universities

searching "plagiarism" as well as cheating


Top tip - think about region-specific words and search all if relevant, for example, Universities in the UK are commonly referred to as "Colleges" in the USA, and it might be worth searching both keywords. >Search synonyms

Search connectors

You can combine multiple search words using search connectors, sometimes called Boolean operators. Boolean operators include: AND, OR, NOT.

Using connectors can improve the relevancy of your results, as the search engine or database will search your keywords in a more specific and filtered way.

Click on the Boolean searching tab to learn more about how to use connectors.