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Sussex Library Guide for Schools and Colleges

Top tips for your project's research

Think about where you are going to search

student sitting reading at a deskTo 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.

Your course textbooks are often a good place to start to get a better understanding of your topic generally. You may then need to move on to more recently published research, such as academic journal articles. Whilst Sussex Library print collections are stuck in the Library building, you can still access a wide range of openly available online research by searching our Library online. There are also a number of freely available online resources you can search, which we have pulled together for you in the free research resources tab.

If you are planning to search the internet, think about the search engine you are going to use. For example, Google Scholar might be more appropriate than Google, depending on the sources you are hoping to find. Have a look at our evaluating and citing sources of information page for more guidance on how to critically evaluate sources of information, and a handy test to see if the sources you find are trustworthy. 

Search with keywords not sentences

notice board with post-it notes pinned to it

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:  

  • cheating
  • exams
  • university

Search with similar words and phrases

pin board with post-it note pinned to it

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 "education" as well as "schooling" will broaden your search, and help you pick up more search results. 

 

 

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. 

Save your sources as you search

piece of paper with checklist written on it

If it's necessary to provide a list of references or a bibliography as part of your project submission, it's best to keep track of the sources you have read and/or cited as you go along. Doing this will save you the headache of scrambling at the last minute to find the full information needed to correctly cite the source in your reference list. 

 

 

Top tip - Take a photo on your phone or mobile device of the inside covers of print books you plan to use in your work, if you don't own them. That way you will have a record of all the information needed to cite when the time comes.
For online sources you could bookmark the webpage or download the materials to be easily accessed at again when you come to cite. 

 

Use search connectors

Top tip - watch the short video guides in the box below to learn how to use search connectors!

 

You can combine multiple keywords or concepts together in your search, using search operators, known as "Boolean connectors" or "Boolean operators". They are: AND, OR, and 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.

In many databases, (and Google) if you don't use a connector between your search words the AND connector automatically applies to your search. 

For example, the keyword search: Brexit voting Wales would be interpreted as Brexit AND voting AND Wales.

How to search using boolean connectors

Search phrases in quote marks
If you have two or more words that you want to find next to one another, search for them as a complete phrase by placing them in double quotation marks. 

 

Use Boolean connector AND to focus your search
Using AND between search words will instruct to the database to find all of your search terms present in the search results, thereby narrowing and refining your search results.

 

Use Boolean connector OR to broaden your search
Using OR between your search words will connect two or more similar concepts together; the database will find at least one of your terms present in the results, thus broadening your search results.

 

 

Using OR between your search words will connect two or more similar concepts together; the database will find at least one of your terms present in the results, thus broadening your search results

Use Boolean connector NOT to eliminate keywords and phrases
Using NOT between search words will narrow your search, by eliminating specific keywords or phrases.

 

Combining multiple Boolean connectors in one search
 

 

Search multiple versions of the same word at once 
Truncation searching, is the act of shortening or truncating a word and searching it with the truncation symbol (the asterisk*), to broaden your search to search multiple versions of the word at once.