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Research basics


Identify key components of the article’s citation
Journal articles are described by means of bibliographic citations. Citations provide you with details about the article (such as title, author, date of publication), which allow it to be uniquely identified.

You will typically find a list of citations on a course reading list, or at the end of a piece of academic work (detailing the works consulted in the creation of the document). The example below illustrates the different components of a citation:

When you are searching for individual articles such as the one detailed above, try to note down as many of these components as possible - It will make the search much easier in the long run.

Adapted through our affiliated UK University, University of Manchester, JRUL, 2012 with slight changes.


There are four key stages which contribute to an effective subject search.

Stage 1: Define the subject in terms of keywords
Try to generate 2-3 key terms or phrases (keywords) that express what you are looking for, and which can easily be entered into a database search engine.
It can be helpful to break the topic down into concepts (usually nouns rather than verbs or adjectives).

Try not to focus too closely on words or terms that might make up part of your overall essay or project title. Instead you should reflect on the question more fully, and pull out the key components which make up the topic as a whole.

Stage 2: Identify information sources
Decide where you are going to search for information - to help you select the correct database for your topic, the JRUL website categorises the bibliographic databases by subject area.

Stage 3: Search the information sources identified using keywords

The vast majority of databases have a standard basic search interface which allows you to enter your search terms and have them interact in a variety of ways using Boolean operators.
Other options allow you to direct the database where to search for the keywords (e.g. in the article title, abstract or full-text), and to limit the types of results retrieved (e.g. you can specify results within a particular date range or from a certain publication type).

Stage 4: Download relevant information

Once you have located an article (or articles) that might be helpful, you can download articles individually or in bulk. Most databases also allow you to export citations into bibliographic management software such as Endnote.

Adapted through our affiliated UK University, University of Manchester, JRUL, 2012 with slight changes.


When using databases you will find that the majority of them use the following search methods:

Boolean Logic
Boolean Logic allows the user to combine and exclude search terms e.g.

  • systems performance AND efficiency (this combines your search terms)
  • power NOT nuclear (this excludes “nuclear” from the search)
  • loads OR stress (this searches for both search terms separately)

It is useful to use Boolean logic as you can refine your search easily and locate relevant articles quickly. You may notice that if you use the advanced search option on some databases it allows you to select AND, OR and NOT to combine your search terms.

Wildcards (?) are used to replace a letter from a word. By replacing the letter with a ? you are then asking the database to search for words with different spellings, e.g. American English or UK English.

Examples include stabili?ation which would retrieve results that include the word stabilization or stabilisation depending upon how it was spelt.

Truncations and Wildcards can sometimes vary between different databases so it is worthwhile checking out the help section.

Using truncation allows the user to retrieve more results from a single word search.

Searching for "Engineering" will retrieve all articles that have word "Engineering" within the title, keywords or abstract.

However if you search for Engineer* you will retrieve articles that include the words Engineering, Engineered, Engineers etc so you are searching for different endings of the same word. It’s a useful way to locate a wider range of articles.

It is always worthwhile checking out each database as it may have a search method that is unique. Use the help facilities and carry out your search using the basic and advanced search options to see how your results differ and which option is the most effective.

Adapted through our affiliated UK University, University of Manchester, JRUL, 2012 with slight changes.