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English Literature for Continuing Education: Search tips

Become a savvy searcher

Whether you are searching SOLO, Google Scholar or a bibliographic databases, there are many ways to make your search more efficient and effective.

Which searching engine or bibiographical database to choose?

It's important to choose the right tools for your search. Here are some of the options:

SOLO

A keyword search in SOLO will return a wide range of books, articles and other papers and is a quick and easy way of finding materials.    However, although SOLO is an excellent tool for subject searching for books, it is a blunt tool in terms of finding journal articles and other papers. 

Pros of using SOLO for literature searching

  • It is quick and easy to use
  • You can use the options that run down the left of the screen to refine your results (for example by date, author, resource type)
  • If you have an Oxford Single Sign on (SSO)  username and password  you will be able to see nearly all of the results in "full text" (i.e. you will get the full article or paper rather than brief details)
  • If you are on a short course (and do not have an Oxford Single Sign) you can refine your search to show just "open access" resources (these will not require a password)

Cons of using SOLO for literature searching

  • SOLO casts a very wide net (searching across nearly all of Oxford's electronic and print resources). Whilst this can be an advantage in terms of surfacing items from a range of disciplines and perspectives, it can also mean that you receive a lot of results some of which may be less relevant to you or of less good quality in comparison to bibliographical databases.
  • SOLO doesn't provide very much information about each item (e.g. it does not provide an abstract or summary) 

Google Scholar

A keyword search in Google Scholar will return a wide range of books, articles and other materials.    

Pros of using Google Scholar for literature searching

  • Quick and easy to use 
  • Great for searching for government publications and reports

Cons of using Google Scholar for literature searching

  • Google Scholar searches normally return huge numbers of results. As with SOLO, whilst this can be an advantage in terms of surfacing items from a range of disciplines and perspectives, it can also mean that you receive too many results some of which may be less relevant to you or of less good quality.
  • It will include some items where the full text is not available to you. To minimize this open Google Scholar Settings and in 'Library Links' search for 'University of Oxford'. This will allow Google Scholar to create links to Oxford's subscription eresources.

Bibliographical Databases

Bibliographical database are excellent tools for searching for articles and other papers on a topic. You will find a list of biblographical databases for your subject under the tab "Oxford's online resources"

Pros of Bibliographical Databases

  • They search across key academic journals, books, conference literature and other publications in a particular discipline.  This means they tend to return fewer but more relevant results. 
  • They often have specialist search options which are appropriate to your subject
  • They often include an abstract or summary. This is an advantage as your search will normally look at the abstract for good matches. In addition it can be useful in helping you to decide if the item is worth reading in full.

Cons of Bibliographical Databases

  • They can be a more difficult to use than either SOLO or Google Scholar though this is improving
  • Sometimes not all the items are available in full - you may just see an abstract and have to find the full text of the item elsewhere. If the full text of the item isn't available use the "Find it @ Oxford" button to search for it in SOLO.

Choosing your search terms

First it's worth spending a bit of time planning you search, for example:

  • Are you trying to find a specific item or information on a topic?
  • Do you just need some relevant information or are you starting a major literature search for a dissertation?
  • What sort of information do you need - books, journal articles, statistical information, maps, images, unpublished 'grey' literature?
  • Do you mainly want British material? Material from another specific country? Material from all countries?
  • Is your topic date-specific? Do you just need the latest publications? Do you need an historical view of the topic?
  • What research questions are you trying to answer?

Searching for a phrase "a phrase"

Putting your search terms in quotation marks will find the word only when they appear together but not when they appear seperately.  Phrase searching is useful for names which consist of more than one word

e.g. "South Africa" or for concepts e.g. "Human Rights", "World War".

* Finding plurals and other alternative word endings

If your search terms include words which couuld be singular or plural or where there are alternative word endings search for the stem of the word and add * at the end

  Eg child* finds items containing child, children, childhood etc

AND

You will nearly always need to combine different concepts in your search. For example is you are searching for items on child poverty, you'll need to search for child and poverty. If you enter your search terms as child poverty most search engines and databases will return items which include both terms (which is what you want). However, a few databases will require you to put AND inbetween the concepts.  

Eg. child* AND poverty will only find records containing both terms.

Adding further terms using AND makes your search narrower, as more terms must be present.  It can help you in making your search narrower for example

  • child* AND poverty AND Britain will narrow down your search to one country
  • child* AND poverty AND 19th century will narrow down to a particular period
  • child* and poverty AND literature will narrow down to a particular sub topic

Some databases including SOLO assume you meant AND if you enter multiple terms. Sometimes you have to select it from a dropdown box. Sometimes "all my words" or similar is used

Synonyms, Alternative Terms and the OR search

Are there alternative ways of expressing your search term? Searching for teenagers? Try also adolescents, young adults.   To include synonyms in your search join them them together with OR.

Eg child* OR juvenile will find items containing either child or juvenile (or both). Adding further terms linked with OR makes your search wider. Using OR is one way to search for synonyms, singular/plural etc. You may need to select OR from a dropdown box. Sometimes "any of my words" or similar is used

If you combine AND and OR you need to include parentheses around the OR words

e.g. (child OR juvenile OR infant OR youth) AND poverty AND Brtiain

Alternative spellings and wildcards

Could your term have more than one spelling, e.g. colour/color.

Some databases search for alternative spellings, in others you have to enter both or use a wildcard e.g. colo?r

Tips

  • Using the Advanced search option on a database will often guide you through constructing a search using these operators. You can often use them in the basic or simple search box, but you have to know them.

 

Limiting your results

You can refine your basic search in various ways, either when entering it or when viewing results. Typical ways to refine or limit a search are:

  • By publication date
  • By further subject terms
  • By type of material, eg article, book etc
  • By language
  • By author
  • By your term appearing in a specific field of the record. Eg, if you specify Virginia Woolf must appear in the subject field, you will limit your search to critical works about her and exclude works written by her

When viewing search results, ways of further refining them are often shown on the left side of the screen, eg. as on SOLO

Reference management

You may wish to consider using reference management software to organise and store your references and to format citations and bibliographies in your work.

Oxford supports EndNote and RefWorks. You can find out about these and other free tools in the guide:

Managing your References

Bodleian Libraries run workshops on reference management (as well as many other topics). If you are not in Oxford to attend workshops, you can view presentations and handouts from them.

HELP!

This page gives you general searching tips, but you will need to find out how they work for your chosen database or search engine. Look for:

  • Guidance and examples displayed on the screen
  • Links to Help text
  • Online demonstrations or tutorials
  • "Mouseovers" - point the mouse at a screen option for a brief explanation

Please contact the Library if you would like more help in searching or using a specific database.