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Study Skills: Research Skills

Books and online tutorials to help you understand, practice and improve your study skills

Research help

This guide is intended to help you as you plan your research.  
It covers searching for books, using the library databases, and keeping track of your research. Please view our guide to Literature Review & Dissertations for guides on researching and writing longer assignments. 

Researching your assignment

How you carry out your research will depend on the type of assignment you have been asked to do. 

Start with the books on your reading list and then widen your search by using the library catalogue to find other books on your topic. Books are useful as an introduction to the topic, and will cover the main issues that you need to consider.  Remember that books are not regularly updated, so check the publication date of any book you use.

If you want to find articles or commentary from the industry itself, look at practitioner magazines or search their websites.  There may also be databases that include reports, briefings and news such as Building, Social Care Online and The Art Newspaper.  In Discover, select both Magazines and Trade Publications in the Source Types list - however, be aware that many of the results may refer to US research. Practitioner resources are useful for the latest news, trends, profiles of key people in the industry, and career information.  Also keep an eye on the key government departments - Ofsted, Departments of Education, Health, Environment, Culture, Business & Trade etc. 

If you have been asked to find research or scholarly articles on your topic, which apply theory to primary research, use Discover.  You will need to make decisions on how recent your research needs to be, bearing in mind that there may be older studies that might still be useful.  You can also narrow by keywords, where possible using specialised terminology or a key issue you have identified.  You will also need to think about alternative terms - create strings of related terms using OR between each term or phrase.  Use official terms if possible, and if a term is shortened to its initials, use both versions - for example "national health service" OR NHS  to make sure you pick up on all the articles in your area. After running your search, click on Academic Journals in the Source Types list to restrict your search.

If you are interested in a topic that is changing fast, it can be useful to set up emails or follow an organisation on Instagram or Twitter/X to get the latest information.  Click on the 'Keeping up-to-date' tab for more information and some suggestions. 

If you are researching a particular topic, the best way to find journal articles or newspaper reports is to use a database such as Discover.  Think carefully about your topic and identify the keywords that best describe the information you need.  See the tab on Search Tips for more information on constructing a search strategy.

There are thousands of journal articles in the databases so you need to be specific. These 5 steps will help you to plan your search strategy when looking for information to support your assignment. 

Step 1: Identify the main ideas or concepts in your assignment. 

Does attending specialised eating disorder support groups reduce instances of anorexia or bulimia in men? 

  • Concepts:  "Support Groups" AND Anorexia AND Men

Step 2: Identify keywords. You can ask Discover to only look for your keywords in the title, abstract, or keywords of an article, which means that your results are more relevant than if you were searching in the full text.  To get the best results, you need to find the best terms possible.  Spend a bit of time identifying synonyms or related terms that best describe the topic. Also think about what the question is asking - are there any key theories or problems that the question is alluding to?

  • Synonyms / Related Terms: Men could also be Males, and Support Group could also be Therapy group. You could also search here for services you are aware of, such as "Adult Eating Disorder Service". You could narrow down eating disorders to Anorexia, Bulimia etc. 

Step 3: Decide which database to use.  If you want to find academic journal articles, we recommend that you start by using Discover which searches across the majority of library databases.  If you wish to find specialist information, check your subject pages other databases the Librarian has recommended. 

Step 4: Use the Advanced Search function. This allows you to put a keyword or a string of keywords on each line and then combine your terms. You should be prepared to run your search a few times to get the best results. Use speech marks to search for a phrase, and use the asterix symbol to find words with a variety of endings (therap* will find Therapy or Therapist). 

Advanced Search: 

Men OR Males 

"Support Group" OR Counselling OR Therapy

"Eating Disorders OR anorexia OR bulimia

Step 5: Check your results.  If you have too many results, narrow by adding more search terms to focus your search, or restrict your results by date, publication type (journal, newspaper).  You should also look at the subject terms that are used to describe the best results, and re-run your search using those terms. 

Remember - you can save your search if you set up an account with the database, or keep a note of your terms.  You can also view your search history and combine different searches until you get the best results. 

Find 2 or 3 good articles in Discover and check them in Google Scholar.  (For more information on Google Scholar, click on the Google Scholar tab).  Find your article, and click on the link to 'related articles' to find articles on a similar topic, or click on the title of the article to view the references. Google Scholar also has a brilliant feature of linking your article to any new articles that cite it. Click on the link Cited By to see more recent articles. You may not be able to link to them directly, but you can check by setting up Library Links (see the video below) which will tell you if the article is available in our online library.   You can also check by logging in to our A-Z list of journal titles and typing in the journal name. If we do have that journal you will see a link that you can click on to browse the volumes, and find your article.

If you can't find the journal, or if you find a book mentioned on a website or Amazon, you may be able to order it on Inter-Library Loan. Click on our Moodle ILL page here and fill in the form.

Set up Google Scholar links


Google Scholar is a free resource that you can use to find scholarly literature, online reports and other academic and professional information.  It includes freely available information that is not included in your library databases, such as reports from professional organsations. However, much of the scholarly information will not be available in full text, so you should use it alongside the databases to access the full article.  

Bradford College Library has worked with Google Scholar to allow you to link through to full text articles that we provide access to straight from your Google Scholar results.  To set up the full text links:

  • Go to Google Scholar
  • Click the three lines in the top left of the screen and click on Settings 
  • Click on Library links
  • Search for Bradford College in the search box
  • Select Bradford College - Full Text Available
  • Click on Save

When you open up Google Scholar, you will see alongside some of your results the words 'Full Text Available'. Click on the link.  You may see a page saying 'If the page does not display, then open the page in a new window'.  Click on this link to view your article. 

There are many tools to help you organise your work.  You can save references in Word which can be easily imported as citations or into bibliographies. You can create profiles in Discover, EBSCO databases and Emerald to save items to view later, and export citations.  If you have a large number of articles, websites and book records to keep track of, we recommend you start using referencing software.  Using something like Menderley will allow you to create your own online library, where you can store and manage everything you want to keep in one place, saving you time.  Referencing software allows you to:

  • Collect, store and manage references in folders
  • Manage via a web account which is accessible via any device linked to the Internet
  • Easily cite references and create bibliographies in a range of reference styles
  • Link directly to the full-text or PDF of the document. 
  • Add personal notes or highlight text

For links and guidance to these services, click on the tab for Literature Review and Dissertations and scroll down to the section on Referencing Management Software.