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How do you solve a problem like researching for assignments?: Find what you need

What will I learn in this section?

This is the longest section of the guide.

If you need to take break before the end of the section, do that and come back to guide refreshed... but do come back and find out how to make the most of your search skills and library resources!

  1. How to find information.
  2. What the search cycle is.
  3. How to access information 

1. How do I find information using the Library?

We use Library Search and specialist resources like databases! 

If you have not visited Library Online - the Library homepage, you will not have seen Library Search yet. Here is a useful image of the Library Search box on Library Online - the Library homepage. You now know where to find Library Search and know what it looks like!

This a screenshot of the Library Search box on Library Online - the Library homepage.

What is Library Search?

Library Search is the Hallam Library search engine that you use to find and access high quality academic resources. With Library Search. you can find results from our book collection, our full text journals and many other sources, and return them in one integrated list that can be refined to show just the kind of resource you need.

Where can I find Library Search?

The Library Search box can be found on the Library Online homepage.

You mentioned specialist resources like databases...

Library Search enables you to search almost all of our library resources in one search. Specialist databases are collections of articles, videos or any text or image based resource that you can search as an individual collection. An example would be Journal of Visualised Experiments (JoVE) or the Royal Society of Chemistry journals. 

But, if I can search almost every resource in one search, why would I search an individual database?

That is a really good question! Here are the benefits of searching an individual database:

  • The content is more specific which means it is easier to find the relevant information.
  • The search screen may have features that you want to use e.g. a title and abstract search.
  • It is quicker to find specific article types e.g. review articles.
  • It may be quicker to find a specific type of information within a specialist source e.g. chemical structures are quick to find in PubChem.

The decision is yours! We tend to recommend a combination of both approaches depending on what information you are trying to find!


                             Activity 1: Answer the question below. You can view the results of the poll to give you an idea of where most guide users think you should search for information.

Where should you search for information when studying at university?
Popular search engines: 0 votes (0%)
Academic sources like Library Search, journals and databases: 33 votes (97.06%)
Blogs: 0 votes (0%)
Commercial websites: 1 votes (2.94%)
Total Votes: 34

2. Choose the study space that suits you!

Its great to have a comprehensive range of information resources but you need study space to work in and engage with others!

The library has dedicated study areas so you can study collaboratively, quietly, or silently. Please respect your fellow users by taking a look at what behaviour is appropriate in each area of the library. When you visit the library, you will see each study area has coloured coded signs to help you identify which area you are in. The directional signs and desk labels will also say the name of the area and zone.

Choose the space that fits how you like to work! 

The 24 hour study spaces page covers:

  • what learning spaces are available
  • how to book a study space
  • how to use a learning space without booking
  • how to find a library space
  • building maintenance

                             Activity 2:  Go to the 24 hour study spaces page and find out what your preferred type of study space would be!


                             Activity 3: You now know the range of study spaces in the libraries. Which type of study space would be your first choice?

My preferred type of study space is...
Apple Mac: 1 votes (3.13%)
Assitive Technology Resource: 2 votes (6.25%)
Booth / table: 8 votes (25%)
Collaborative room: 2 votes (6.25%)
Desk only: 6 votes (18.75%)
Individual room: 5 votes (15.63%)
PC: 4 votes (12.5%)
Specialist PC: 0 votes (0%)
Cafe: 1 votes (3.13%)
Non bookable space like sofas or comfy seats.: 3 votes (9.38%)
Total Votes: 32


If you are studying at home, here is a useful guide to help you make the space work for you!

3. The search cycle

Lets think about our search for information as as search cycle.

Researching for information has different steps and we may been to refine a search before you find the information you need to answer your assignment question. Using the search cycle approach is also useful for helping keep a logical and methodical approach to searching for information.

You may find it easier to picture it as a circle and the video here presents the idea visually.

                             Activity 4: Watch the search cycle video

4. Search techniques that will save you time!

                             Activity 5: Watch the short video to show you how to improve your searches with the use of AND OR "phrase searching" and truncation.

We will making use of these techniques in some of the activities and contextualised feedback above. This is a short video to make sure that you are all aware of how these techniques can be used and make your searching time more effective!

The little words that you use to connect your different search terms have a huge impact on your search results! 

5. Use alternatives terms!

It is important to not miss out on relevant research that may have used slightly different words or terminology to the keywords you use to search with or the writer has used.

It is a good idea to think of alternative ways of expressing your keywords or add in commonly used abbreviations. Here is a small exercise below to show you how one everyday piece of food could have a wealth of different words linked to it. 


                             Activity 6: Find those keywords! 

We can use alterative phrases to find more information like "wound healing" OR "wound management". We could use brand or generic medicine names to expand searches. We could use CAS registry numbers to expand our searches.

However, sometime there are no alternative words to use as scientific language can be technical and precise but there may be abbreviated versions of the keywords that we can use like High-performance liquid chromatography can be abbreviated to HLPC and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be abbreviated to COPD.

Experiment with your search strategies!

6. Lets get back to resources! How do I access online Library resources?

The Library subscribes to lots of online resources.

Many will require you to login to access the resource and the contents. Most Library resources are accessed by using your SHU login when prompted. 

  • If you are using Library Search, we recommend you sign into Library Search at the beginning of your session to make sure you can access full text.
  • If you are using a database or another specialist resource, you may be able to access the full text within the resource or you may need to use the SHU Links to access the full text.

Some resources have individual registration processes and require a user to register to use the resource for example SciFinder.

If a resource is unique and does not provide access using your SHU login, you can find out how to access the resource in the A-Z List of databases. For example, to find out how to access SciFinder, you would go to the A-Z list of database and look in the S section for SciFinder and follow the registration information.


Remember to always sign out of any resources you use e.g. Library Search, especially on a shared device or computer, to ensure your searches remain private and your personal settings cannot be adjusted by anyone else.

Here are a selection of links to library help pages and FAQ pages about using resources. If you have any issues accessing resources then get in contact with the Library for help! Library Chat is available 24/7/365!

7. Find a book using Library Search

You need to be able to find a book using Library Search.

                             Activity 7: Watch the short video on how to do this!

There are three approaches covered in under 3 minutes.

  1. How to find a book when you know the title of the book.
  2. How to find a book about a specific topic. 
  3. How to improve the precision of your search and find a book where your keywords appear in the title.

Option 3 is a really useful approach and helps ensure that the books you find are incredibly relevant to your search! The results set may be smaller than if you try approach 2. If the results set is too small, go back to using an Any field search and restrict by date instead!

                             Activity 8: Put this into practice and find a book using Library Search

You may be working on an assignment in a group and you may be required to take along three or four book titles to a seminar or tutor group meeting that have influenced or shaped your understanding of a new research area.

Use Library Search and filter your search results to find a relevant book published in the last 5 years. Select the book that you would be happy to show your tutor and identify why you chose this specific book out of all the books you could have chosen!


                             Activity 9: How to improve your searches in Library Search

To help you understand what works and what could be improved, you are now going to answer three questions which will provide feedback based upon your answers. Our research question is about the use and effectiveness of silver in wound management

The aim of these questions is to help you identify how you could improve a search and apply these approaches to the searches you need to do for your assignments.

In summary, your search results will depend on the keywords you have used in your search.

You need to be able to manage and work with the information you find.

  • Too much information can be overwhelming!
  • Too little information can make it difficult to answer your assignment question.
  • Information that is out of date and not current can lead you into making inaccurate statements when writing your assignment.

You may need to:

  • Narrow your search and improve how specific it is.
  • Expand your search and improve how broad your search is.
  • Focus on specific types of information and use filters.
  • Focus on a specific date range and use a date filter

8. How to make sense of academic journals and their importance as key sources at university!

Lets confirm our understanding about journals and specific journal article types.

Academic journals are publications that bring together research papers and articles written by researchers from a particular field, subject or discipline. Think of these as magazines for academic researchers - each publication has a theme or title that helps researchers to identify where their research would fit best, with each issue focusing on a different sub-topic within this area.

A journal article is the individual papers, written by researchers, that report on the findings on research projects.

An original research article is also know as a primary source as the writers are doing an original piece of research e.g. an experiment or testing a theory.

A review article is also know as a secondary source as the writers are summarising up other researchers work and not doing an original experiment. They are basing their article outcomes on the balance of evidence from the articles that they had read in the creation of the review article.


                             Activity 10: Answer the question below and you will receive feedback based upon your answers.


Where should I begin with journal articles?

Begin by reading review articles to help build up your knowledge and then move onto original research articles. Original research articles may be a little harder to read as they are written by experts within a field and assume a level of understanding that other researchers in this field have as standard.

Different types of articles

There are lots of different types of journal articles and it is useful to understand this and know what article type you are reading! Often it can be useful to being with a review article and then work up to using original research articles.

It can be difficult when you first begin working with journal literature to work out what type of article you are reading. There are visual clues that you can tap into:

  • the article type may be mentioned in the article title.
  • there may be information under the abstract that lists what type of article it is.
  • there may be an article information or publication type section which has this information.


                             Activity 11: Put this knowledge into practice! Decipher what article types the following articles are.

All three articles are available in Library Search but to make it easier for you, all three articles are linked below. The links below are to the articles listed in Library Search.

To access the full text, you go to the Find Online box and click on the journal provider for the article. You need to move from the Library Search record of the article to the full text article hosted on the journal site. If prompted, you may need to login with your Hallam login to access the full text. You need to view the full text of the journal articles to be able decipher what type of article you are looking at!

You can find the answers in Box 4 - Answers on the How do you feel now section!


Sometimes you have to use your judgement which can be hard to trust if you are new to reading scientific articles.

You can find out more about different publication types including articles via the US National Library of Medicine publication type characteristics webpage. The webpage is useful for helping you understand the different characteristics related to different publication types. You can also take a look at publisher websites to see how they define article types for authors.

Here are a selection of links to help you understand more about different types of articles types.

9. How to find journal articles using Library Search

                             Activity 12: Watch the video to learn how to find journal articles using Library Search

10. Use review articles to help you get into your subject!

Using review articles is a really good way to get into a new subject straight away!

We recommend using databases like PubMed or the Royal Society of Chemistry Journals to find review articles because they have additional search filters like article types that you can apply to your search. It is a very quick way to find subject specific review articles and other article types!

One of the quickest ways to find a review article is to use a specialist databases* like:

  • PubMed
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Journals

Or a large journal article database which covers a broad range of subjects

  • Web of Science
  • Scopus
  • Dimensions
  • ScienceDirect

*There are other databases you could choose to use and they are all listed in the Journals and specialist resources like databases section of the Biosciences and Chemistry subject guide. If you are curious to find out about all the databases the library provides access… you can find them all listed on the A-Z List of databases.  


                             Activity 13: Search on either PubMed or the Royal Society of Chemistry Journals Online and find a review article.

Go to the resource using the link provided in the activity. The link will be to the database listing in Library Search. This is the route to the resource that should take you through any login process seamlessly!

Do not be tempted to use a popular search engine to find the database as you may make logging into the resource a little but more difficult than it need to be!!

                             Activity 13a: Find a review article using PubMed

  • Go to PubMed using the link above.
  • Choose something to search that you are interested in or that inspired you to pursue a degree in the sciences or use the term ethics.
  • Run your search and then refine your results using the filters on the left hand side of the screen.
  • Use the Review filter in the Article Types section. This will refine your results to review articles.

Remember, PubMed is a mixture of abstracts and full text. If PubMed only has the abstract version of the article... you use SHU Links within PubMed to check if we have access to the article in another source. Clicking on SHU Links will take you to the resource that has the full text of the article.


                             Activity 13b: Find a review article using Royal Society of Chemistry Journals Online

  • Go to the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal Online using the link above.
  • Choose something to search that you are interested in or that inspired you to pursue a degree in the sciences or use the term ethics.
  • The results screen allows you to toggle between All, Articles or Chapters. Choose the Articles tab and use the Search Filters on the right hand side of the page and select Review Article in the Article Type section.
  • You may notice that there are lots of article types. You can find a definition describing what a specific article type is on the Journal homepage from where the article originates from.

For example, this article - Hydrogels based on cellulose and chitin: fabrication, properties, and applications - within the journal - Green Chemistry is a critical review article.  You can find out what a critical review is on the homepage of the journal - Green Chemistry - in the Article Types section. You can see how this differs to a review by looking at the definition of a review article on the journal Natural Product Reports.

11. Use your subject guide and specialist resources!

What is a subject guide?

Subject guides  are written by your subject librarian and designed to help you find and use specific academic resources. You'll find information regarding books, eBooks, specific journals and key databases that are relevant to your subject. 

                             Activity 14: Watch these short videos to find out how subject guides can make you research days easier!

Lets take a look at the Biosciences and Chemistry subject guide.

We are coming to the end of this section and have covered a lot of content!

There is one last activity!

                             Activity 15: Answer the following question about your search preferences!

12. Take a break

Congratulations you have completed three sections! 

Time to take a break - maybe some fresh air or a chat with a friend or a cup of tea!