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Sociology and Politics

About this section

The resources on this page will help you find good quality, up to date literature and evidence to use in your coursework.

  • identifying keywords for searching
  • searching using a search strategy
  • applying this to the most relevant databases for your topic
  • evaluating what you find 
  • referencing and citing materials accurately in your work.

Follow the links on the left hand side to navigate to each section.

Subject Librarian support

Literature searching is a key skill at university. We know it can be quite daunting to remember all of the information you are told in the literature searching sessions and that you may need a little extra help. Don't panic, we can support you!

How to Search


Library: How to Search

How to Search is a resource produced by the library which aims to give students a general introduction to the process of searching for evidence. It covers the different stages of the process of searching for information, including:

  • identifying the information you need
  • deciding where to search
  • using search techniques to construct an effective search
  • evaluating the sources you find
  • understanding the basics of referencing

The resource includes videos, interactive activities, and downloadable documents to support your independent learning. How to Search is not subject-specific, but it is particularly useful if you are new to literature searching or would like a refresher of the basics.

Identifying search terms

Don't type your whole assignment question into a search, instead try to identify the main concepts or keywords, and search for those instead. This short video explain how you can identify your search terms.

Combining search terms

The little words that you use to connect your different search terms have a huge impact on your search results. This short video explains the differences between using: AND, OR and NOT

You can use OR to link alternative terms for the same concept, e.g.: 

  • Coronavirus OR Covid OR SARS-CoV-2

Note: you can use the truncation character (usually an asterisk *) to capture multiple endings of a word (e.g. Covid* would find Covid and Covid-19).

You can use AND to link the different concepts, e.g.: 

  • "high blood pressure" AND Coronavirus AND Nigeria

Note: putting quotation marks " " around the words treats them as a phrase, so the words have to appear next to each other and in that order.

And you can combine all of these techniques together, also using brackets, to build a more complex search string, e.g.: 

  • (Coronavirus OR Covid* OR SARS-CoV-2) AND ("high blood pressure" OR hypertension) AND (Nigeria OR "West Africa")

Developing your search strategy

The PEO method

You might want to apply a specific framework to help you find research articles. The PEO method is a popular research methodology for Health research and is one of the simplest of the frameworks to use. It stands for Population, Exposure and Outcome and can be used to find a range of primary literature.

It's worth noting - you may not always need to use all the elements of the framework. This will depend on the themes or concepts you have - for example, you may not have an outcome, and that is fine.

Watch this short video on using the PEO framework to see if it might be helpful to you.

Introduction to databases

What is a database?

A database is an online resource that organises information in a way that makes it possible to search the information easily and effectively. You have access to many databases through the Library, each of which let you carry out sophisticated and thorough searches within particular subject areas. Many of these databases concentrate on journal articles, but they can include or focus on other sources.

Information from many of these databases can be searched via Library Search. However, searching individual databases allows you to perform a more precise or complex search. You will find that running your literature searches in the databases yields fewer results but the results may be more specific and relevant.

Watch this short video to find out more about databases:

How can I find my specialist databases?

The key databases for Public Health can be found on this page:

Using databases

This section provides a series of videos demonstrating how you can apply your search strategy to some of the key databases for Public Health.

Citation searching

Citation searching allows you to use the articles you've already found to locate both older and newer material. This is especially useful if you are struggling to find much material on your topic.

You can follow the research trail backwards using the Reference list:

  • Most academic research comes with a reference list at the end: you can use the reference list to find related articles on the same topic as your original paper.
  • This is perfectly acceptable to do and one of the reasons why referencing exists. However, anything you find this way can only be older than your original paper, since the authors would have had to read it as before they started writing.
  • Look at the references at the end of the paper to understand which papers and which researchers the author had read and cited.

You can follow the research trail forwards using the Citations:

  • Explore who has cited the article since it was published.
  • Some citation searching databases keep a record of who is referencing whom: this means that when you look up an article in that database, there will be a link to show you other articles which referenced that original article.
  • Because the original article had to be published before anyone else could reference it, this means that any articles that reference it must be more recent. Citation searching is sometimes referred to as 'snowballing or 'pearl growing' because you are using one piece of research as a building block to find other research related to, or attached to, that piece.

This video shows you how to apply this technique using Scopus which is a large multi-disciplinary database.

Reading Critically: be active in your reading!

Reading and Notemaking tutorials

You will encounter a great deal of information during your studies. Much of this will come to you through lectures, reading, discussion and research. These tutorials cover strategies for:

  • reading effectively
  • making notes while reading
  • making notes in lectures

The Skills Centre runs sessions on both campuses covering all sorts of topics, from improving your writing to stats help. You can find out more out about the Skills Centre here.

Evaluating your sources

It can be difficult to know which sources will be the best to use in your work. As you learn more about your subject this will get easier, but there are some simple steps to help you with choosing what to read and use in your assignments.

Start by seeing if you can answer these questions: 

  1. Is it relevant?
  2. Who wrote it?
  3. Why was it written?
  4. When was it written?

Find out more: The 'Deciding what to use' page of SearchStart looks at these questions in more detail. 

Keeping a record

Being organised and manging the information you find is really important.

  • You are less likely to loose information.
  • You have one place to go to find the information you are planning to read or use.
  • You can easily find the sources you need to cite and reference.

The most important thing is to find a system which works for you!  Your tutors may have some suggestions about approaches they use.  


RefWorks is recommended by the library to help you manage the resources you find, and format citations and references in your work in APA style. Visit the RefWorks section of the Referencing guide to learn more about RefWorks or book onto a workshop:

Policy documents and government reports

You may need to use other types of literature such as policy documents and government reports in your assignments. These resources are commonly referred to as 'grey literature' and can be found in a number of places.

The term 'grey literature' normally refers to any resource which is not an academic publication, or from a commercial source. This could include policy documents, government reports, internal guidance, NICE guidelines, etc.

This section contains links to resources where you can find 'grey literature', in addition to a general Google search.

Academic skills support

The Skills Centre can help all students to develop their academic skills.  Some of our most popular topics include:

  • Assignment planning
  • Critical writing
  • Presentation skills
  • Research planning
  • Time management
  • Literature reviews

Find out more and book onto a session by visiting the Skills Centre website.

Glossary of research terms