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PhD paper sources: developing a search strategy

It is a vast and time consuming task to trawl through all the paper and electronic sources looking for the illusive paper that you need to support your dissertation. Hopefully you will have already identified your target paper for the research and that you have an idea of where you want your search to lead you.

  1. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of literature available to you. You will have had good advice from you tutor/supervisor as to what you are looking for.

  2. Be prepared to write everything down. By writing everything down I mean that your first action is to start a project diary. In this book you will write everything down, no matter how inconsequential it seems at the time. Everything you write down is related to your research.

  3. Brainstorm where you would like your research to take you. Think back to some of the reasons why you chose this particular topic for your research. Do you remember when you first thought that this is what you wanted to research at PhD level?

  4. Mind map - start showing the pathways and connections between your targets; research that you have already identified; research that you still need to identify and any further questions that you feel need to be asked about the research (this can be helpful later on when you are writing up your discussion and conclusion).

  5. Write down all of your searches even if they lead you to dead ends, or rather especially if they lead you to dead ends as there is nothing worse than spending half a day searching papers and thinking that they are familiar, but you can’t remember that you have already discarded that line of enquiry. In your notes add where you looked, the terms or criteria you used and the dates when you did it.

  6. Good record keeping will support your information and knowledge later when you need to discuss your approach with the committee.

  7. By keeping notes and records of your searches it will help you provide the Bibliography and also identify any new search that are needed.

  8. Note keeping will also help avoid plagiarism problems as you know where the information has come from and who you need to acknowledge for it.

  9. Save your search histories. Break down your searches into key words - use synonyms, use broader and narrower terms.

  10. Recruit support from the Academic Support Librarian, as they have a vast amount of knowledge that can help you with your search.