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Searching for Resources

Searching for credible and relevant resources for your assignments can be confusing and you can easily waste a lot of time by searching in the wrong places and for the wrong things.  This is why planning your search is so important as a good plan will find better results, help you structure your time and resources and result in a much better piece of work.

You can think of the planning and searching process like this

  1. Analyse your question. Make sure that you understand exactly what you are being asked to research, and what you need to do with the evidence you find.  Have a look at our Writing at University guides for more help on this.
  2. Define your search terms.  Identify the key words and phrases that make up your assignment question; this is what will start to make up your search strategy. Take a look at the next tab in this box to find out more about search strategies. There are also some examples of how to do this on the Best Practice tab on this page.
  3. Consider sources of information. Don't just use Google.  Think about the type of information you need; are textbooks, journal articles or websites the best source?
  4. Search.  Start your search using Library Search as this will give you access to thousands of full text documents.  Look at the Using Library Search tab on this page for help videos showing you how to use Library Search. You can also have a look at the Finding Journals and Journal Articles guide for more information.
  5. Evaluate and review.  This means looking at your search results and evaluating whether your search terms have found what you were expecting.  You might need to review the search strategy, adding in new search terms or removing those which might be affecting the results.
  6.  Organise and manage citations.  Make sure you keep track of the resources you find and use.  Look at the Referencing guides for help on referencing and using reference managers to organise your research findings.
  7. Communicate your research. Write up your assignment! Take a look at the Writing at University guides for more help.

You can find a short video explaining how to plan your search within the Video playlist page.

Slides used during our online workshop are included on the next tab and are also available from the Downloadable resources page.


The examples below show how you can use Step 2  from the Planning cycle to identify the concepts from your assignment question.

  • Start by identifying the key concepts; make sure you understand the question you are answering.


  • Move on to identify any alternative terms such as synonyms, acronyms, specific names etc.

You now have the keywords and phrases you need to start building up your search.  However, you may now need to think about limiters such as date ranges, population groups, geographic region etc, so add notes about those into your search strategy too. Have a look at the Search Tools page in the left hand menu to see how you can develop a more effective search using some simple tricks and tools.

You can map out your search strategy in whatever way works for you.

Some people like lists and so plan their search strategy out in a grid-box or table format. Some people are more visual and like to draw their strategy out using a mind-map approach (either on paper or using mind-mapping software). Some people use sticky notes or Trello or a spreadsheet.

If it works for you then as long as it enables you to search systematically and thoroughly there's no need to change the way you work. 

If your search strategies are not very developed, the method you use doesn't lead to a good search, then consider using one of the other methods to see if changing your approach helps.

Library Search is our main search tool to discover a wide range of resources once you have developed your search strategy.  The video playlist below gives guidance on how to find you way around Library Search and how to use the Simple or Advanced searches.


This is a great example of a step by step search strategy plan for the topic 'How age affects opportunities in the workplace', created by one of our first year Sociology students.