Monday, 29 November 2010

Finding the evidence: planning a search

So, you have your assignment title – and the deadline that goes with it, what next?

You need to find information that will help you write that assignment. Start doing this without some kind of plan and you risk hours of looking without much success. So you need to make a plan.

1. Begin with your title

Look at your title and pick out the key words that you need to search for in order to answer the question. Here’s an example:

How effective is cognitive behaviour therapy in reducing chronic pain in adults

Words to include: Cognitive behaviour therapy, Chronic pain, adults

Words to ignore: effective, reducing

2. Find the alternatives

Once you have identified words in the title, consider alternatives or related terms. For example acronyms or abbreviations for a term; American / English spelling variations; alternative ways of describing a term (synonyms); related topics. The more variations you have to include in your search the greater chance you have of finding the material you need.

3. Get organised

There are various ways you can organise your thoughts and make sure you have considered all the options. You may like to draw a spider diagram with your question / title in the middle and all the terms / topics / sub-questions you can think of around the outside.

A technique many people use is PICO. This helps you break your topic down under 4 key headings, which can help you understand what you are searching for, and help you define your keywords. The PICO headings are: population / patient / problem; Intervention; Control / comparison / Outcome. For example:

P = adults / adult / specific age groups e.g older adults

I = cognitive behaviour therapy / cbt / psychotherapy / cognitive therapy / cognitive treatment / behavioural therapy

C = drugs / drug therapy / pain killers / specific drugs

O = pain reduction / pain control / pain management / pain assessment / pain level / chronic pain / suffering / specify type of pain e.g. low back pain

4. Link it all together

Once you feel you have identified all the relevant terms you are nearly ready to start searching, however once you begin to enter terms into a database you will need to connect them together. Boolean Operators are used to connect terms in a search.

“OR” is used to connect related terms (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy OR cbt). This allows you to include your related terms in a search and broadens out the search.

“AND” is used to connect different terms (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy AND chronic pain). This allows you to make your search specific and cuts out any results which only covers one of your terms.

“NOT” is used to exclude a particular aspect of a topic (e.g pain reduction NOT drugs).

So your final search might look something like:

adults OR adult OR older adults


cognitive behaviour therapy OR cbt OR psychotherapy OR cognitive therapy OR cognitive treatment OR behavioural therapy


pain reduction OR pain control OR pain management OR pain assessment OR pain level OR chronic pain OR suffering

5. Still not sure?

If you want some further advice on planning a search or how to search specific databases then contact your Academic Support Librarian – you can find our contact details on the About Us page of this blog.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Finding the evidence: choosing where to look

There are many places you can search for information to support your arguments. One of the most confusing elements of searching is knowing where to go to find the evidence you need.

Choosing the right location is really important to finding information as easily as you can. However there is no single place that will always answer your questions, different assignments will lead to different searches.

Here is an example:

Has the Department of Health’s 2003 Tacking Health Inequalities report changed the impact of poverty on mortality rates?

Use the internet to find:

The report mentioned – either by searching Google or going straight to the Department of Health website if you know it.

Links to UK government statistics on poverty and mortality rates from before and after the report

Use textbooks to find:

Broader information and commentaries on health inequalities as a topic

Use databases to find:

Latest information, primary evidence and specific research into topics around this written in journal articles for example clinical trials that evidence how mortality rates within an impoverished inner city area are higher for a condition that in an affluent suburb.

You can find more detailed information on finding and using different databases and the library catalogue elsewhere in our blog. If you want to keep up to date with new articles and posts, why not follow us on twitter.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Finding the evidence: So what's wrong with google...

Google and other search engines are quick and easy ways to find answers to your questions, but you cannot rely on them entirely when searching for the evidence for your assignments.

Personal / social web surfing is different to academic searching so you may need to look in different places. Just because you use google / wikipedia to find out answers to questions you are interested in does not mean these should necessarily be your first port of call when producing an academic assignment.

You need to find trustworthy evidence for your assignments, and the major difficulty in searching the web is that you don’t necessarily have the background knowledge to do this. If you are researching a condition or a treatment that you have never heard of then it becomes very difficult to decide whether websites you come across are accurate and truthful and therefore suitable for your work. You really need to find sources of evidence that add to the quality and credibility of your work; using google might feel easier than learning how to use academic databases, but bear in mind the effort you then need to put in to evaluate what you find.

Google is not ‘bad’ – neither is wikipedia for that matter, but web based resources have their limits.

What does Google do well?

- Huge coverage and up to date information

- Easy and familiar search interface

- Options for advanced features

- Google Scholar allows you to search academic content & focuses on journal articles, if searching from on campus this will tie in to our Find It links to help you get the full text.

- “Define:” feature allows you to locate definitions of a term where they appear on the web.

- Domain searching (within the advanced options) allows you to search within an area of the internet, for example “”.

What’s missing from a google search?

- Opportunity to build a systematic search structure or combine searches easily

- Facility to truly narrow down results using limits as you can in a database

- Features such as saving your search or specific results to return to at a later date

- A lot of academic material, such as journal articles, may not appear in a google search - Google Scholar is better for this as it focuses more on ‘scholarly literature’.

So what should i use google for?

- To find websites where they are needed, for example locating what patient information is available on a condition, or finding product information for a device or aid.

- To navigate to websites for professional / government / charitable organisations such as Department of Health.

Where else should i go for my research?

- Start with textbooks, encyclopedias and dictionaries to understand your key terms – if you don’t understand your topic you can’t research it properly.

- Find the latest research articles in academic databases; you may use something like google scholar as part of this (this works better on campus as it then links automatically to our full text resources).

- Search in subject gateways on the web - try Intute or NHS Evidence - these allow you to search as if you were somewhere like google, but the resources have been evaluated or checked to some degree to ensure you are not finding inaccurate or unsafe information.

- Consider web content that might be useful for example professional or government information.

How do I learn how to use these tools?

You can get help from your Academic Support Librarian on how to locate books / dictionaries etc and how to use the databases we have access to. You can find our contact information on the About Us page of our blog.