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Study skills

Search Skills for Students

Need help with searching? Browse our user guides and short training videos for guidance on getting started and advancing your search skills.

Get started with OneSearch

OneSearch is the library's search tool that allows you to search for books, ebooks, journal articles and other types of resources all together. You can find literature on any topic quickly and it's a great place to start researching for an assignment or dissertation. Our short video on how to use OneSearch will show you how to get started.

How to search in OneSearch (video opens in Panopto)

For help with other tools such as the library catalogue, ebooks or the A-Z journal finder please see our 'Getting Started' playlist.

Planning your literature search

Literature Searching

A Step by Step Guide

A literature search is a through and organised search to find information on a topic. It is a methodical, step by step process which involves

  • planning a search
  • searching systematically
  • locating books and articles

This guide will take through this process and you'll find videos and links to support you.


Literature Searching


1. Formulating a research question

This may not apply if you have been given an essay question to answer but if you are writing a dissertation or other piece of work which requires you to develop your own question you need to make sure it is focussed and answerable/achievable. Having a focussed question makes finding relevant literature easier.

Example Broad topic: ‘Outdoor learning and pupil wellbeing’

Focussed question: Does outdoor learning increase wellbeing in primary school pupils?

2. Identifying the main concepts

Once you have a question or topic in mind you need to start planning how you are going to search. Firstly exclude any words from your question which are of secondary importance and focus on your key concepts.

Does outdoor learning increase wellbeing in primary school pupils?

Key concepts are:

  • Outdoor learning (The concept being evaluated)
  • Wellbeing (The measurable outcome)
  • primary school pupils (population)

Note that ‘increase’ isn’t included as a key concept. Most research questions will have an evaluative element to them for example: assess, discuss, (what are the) advantages, disadvantages, pros and cons, increases, decreases. These words rarely need to be included as search terms and may unnecessarily complicate your search so best leave them out.

3. Developing your Keywords

A thorough search strategy should include all the ways your key concepts may be described (these are called synonyms). This helps minimise the risk of missing relevent literature.
Example search strategy

Tip: Use existing literature to get ideas for alternative terms. If you have a key book or article look to see what language is used by the author. You could also run a quick search in OneSearch or Google Scholar to get ideas for language.

Part two Literature Searching


4. Choose where to Search

To ensure you are finding as much literature as possible you should use more than one search tool. OneSearch is a good place to look for both books and journal articles but it is also advisable to use one of the library's more specialised education resources. You can find a list of the databases we recommend on the homepage of your subject guide.

5. Doing a search in a database

In this step we'll look at how to type your search strategy into a database. The order in which you enter your search terms can make a difference to your results so you need to search in a structured way. Using an 'advanced' search form is advised because it makes it easier to build your search.

Search techniques

How you enter your search terms can make a difference to your results so you need to search in a structured way. There are a number of techniques you can use to make sure you are searching efficiently.

  • Put search terms where there are more than one words in speech marks, for example "forest school". This searches for the words together.
  • Using an asterisk sign to search for words which have a common root but different endings for example school* will find articles containing the words school, schools or schooling.

These are advanced searching steps and are not compulsory but worth learning if you are not getting the right type of results.


At this stage you will also want to think about how to filter your results, especially if you have too many. This may be by date or by language or location. The database you are using will have built in limiters to allow you to do this easily.

6. Citation searching: Finding additional literature from your search results

This is a technique where you can use a key book or journal to find further research. The best two databases to use for this task are Scopus and Web of Science as they map vast numbers of citations. You can find links to both on the Key Resources page in this guide.

Run a search in Scopus or WoS, identify the most relevant results and then explore the reference list, citations and related articles of each result. It's often possible to return results which haven't come up in your initial search.

A word of caution! This search technique is difficult to do systematically and it can be hard to keep track of what you have found. We'd recommend you do this in addition to a more structured search, as doing all of your searching using this technique will not be thorough.

Part three Literature searching: Access


7. Accessing Literature

There are a number of different ways to access the materials you need once you have found them in a database. An article record may have a PDF attached or there may be a link saying 'Full Text'. If there isn't, look for the 'Find it @Brighton' link. There is usually one located in every search result. This will take you to the full text of an article if we subscribe to it.

The library doesn't have access to everything you find via a database. If the Find it @Brighton link directs you to a message saying 'we have no online access' there are two options.

  1. Check for an open access version. Copy and paste the title into Google and see if an OA version of the article exists. Sometimes articles which are open access do not come up in a database search so it's worth double checking.
  2. If you cannot find it online then you can submit an Interlibrary loan request. This means that the library will try and obtain an online copy of the article for you. There is a limit to how many times you can do this. First and second year undergraduate students can request three articles per year with no charge, final year undergraduates can request ten, and taught postgraduates can request fifteen. Research students and staff have an unlimited quota.