Category Archives: Information skills

A dynamic guide to literature searching

Stratford Library

Every now and then we get the opportunity to play with some new tools to see what they can do to help students either make better use of library resources or to support their learning. Personally speaking, it’s one of my favourite aspects of the job, trying out new tools, seeing how they work and seeing if there are ways they can be used to support students. It was with this in mind that I realise experimented with a new tool that we can use via Office 365: Sway.

Sway’s an interesting tool. It’s somewhere like a cross between a PowerPoint and a Prezi. It enables you to prepare little tutorials that incorporate text, photo and video elements relatively quickly and easily. Admittedly, it took me a little while to get my head around how it works, but after a little playing around it actually seemed fairly straightforward.

To get to grips with how it works, I decided to convert my recent post on systematic literature searching into one of these dynamic Sway presentations. Of course, I had to take a slightly different approach when putting it together, in the sense that I needed to strip it back a little and make it a little less text heavy as it could become quite tedious with a lot of text on screen. So I stripped it back and made it a bit more concise, whilst also retaining the key messages in the tutorial (well, I think I managed that anyway!).

You can view the full Sway on literature searching for psychology here (you will need to login with your UEL email address and password to view it). If you have any feedback or comments, please do post them in the comments below. And if you have any queries about literature searching in general, plus do get in touch!

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The problem with searching for journal articles using internet search engines

(Image c/o JD Hancock on Flickr)

Internet search engines are great. They help you find information quickly and easily. They are, however, not always necessarily the best tool to use in searching for academic papers. They are not particularly sophisticated and don’t necessarily point you in the right direction to access the papers you need.

Take Google Scholar (other internet search engines are available!). A lot of people tell me that they’ve searched on Google Scholar but either cannot find many papers that are relevant to their needs or they find the papers but cannot access them. This is not necessarily because we do not have access to the papers required, but is down to the way Google and the databases we subscribe to work.

For my school (Psychology) the key databases are PsycInfo and PsycArticles, both provided by EBSCO (you can access both of them via this link). These two databases include a lot of papers published by a number of different publishers (and by the way, everything in PsycArticles is also in PsycInfo!). But publishers also have their own sites that host content for each of their publications. So you can find journal titles hosted on the Taylor and Francis or Wiley websites, for example. However, often our access to a particular journal is not via the publisher website, but via EBSCO. And this is where the problems can arise.

Internet search engines (include Google Scholar!) are unable to search within EBSCO. Consequently, if you conduct a search and find a journal article published by, for example, Taylor and Francis, the search engine will take you to the Taylor and Francis page for that particular article. At this point, you will think you do not have access to the article because access is provided by EBSCO rather than Taylor and Francis.

There are a couple of ways to get around this. First of all, restrict your use of Google Scholar and internet search engines. It can be useful, but you are much better off using any of our dedicated databases. The databases will direct you to the content you can access, and also enables you to conduct more sophisticated searching, particularly in terms of filtering your search results. EBSCO in particular enables you to filter by methodology, age, gender, subject heading and more. The fact that it makes our subscribed content easier to find and easier to filter is a huge advantage over internet search engines, particularly when conducting research.

Second, if you do use an internet search engine and come up against an article that you cannot access, head to Library Search, paste the title of the journal in the search window (under the “Books and more” heading) and it will tell you whether we have access to the journal in question, which database includes the journal and what coverage the database provides access to.

I would never say avoid using it altogether as it can be a useful starting point. However, it is only ever a starting point. Your research should never begin and end on Google Scholar (or any internet search engine).  In short, when conducting your literature searching, focus the majority of your searching on our databases and Library Search. Use internet search engines if you must, but keep in mind that they are limited and should never be your sole source when literature searching. And if you need help searching any of our specialist databases, please do get in touch to arrange a one-to-one, either with myself (for Psychology students) or your subject librarian.

Happy searching!

Ian Clark

email: i.clark@uel.ac.uk | twitter: @PsycLib_UEL

Information skills – assessing information online

There is more information available at your finger tips now than ever before. According to one estimate, there are over 1 billion websites alone (let alone number of web pages!). Whilst there are many positives in terms of the increased accessibility of information, it does present difficulties. Given that the tools available online enable anyone with an internet connection to create content and publish to the world, there is clearly a lot of information out there that is unreliable. It is for this reason that it is vital to take a very critical approach to any information you find online. Don’t simply accept what you find as fact, you need to look at it critically, analysing it to determine its accuracy.

There are four basic questions you should ask yourself when you find information online:

Who wrote it? Can you identify who has actually written the article? Does it name an author or is it written anonymously/using a pseudonym? Is the author a well-known and respected figure within the community? Are they a respected figure in the field? If the author isn’t identifiable, has it been hosted on a website that is respected and well-established in the field? Does it provide clear, reasonable reasons for the anonymity?

Can you verify what they have written? Do they refer to other sources within the article? Do they mention any research that has been conducted? If so, do they provide links or citations so you can access and read this research?

Can you identify when it was written? Is the article clearly dated? Can you identify how often the website is updated? Are links in the article still active or are they effectively “dead links” (ie when you click on the link you are directed to a web page that no longer exists)?

Do they have an agenda? Does the author or website hold an identifiable political perspective? Is the article or website itself funded by groups or individuals that pursue a particular political agenda? Is the author affiliated with any think-tanks or lobbying groups?

These questions are a good starting point for assessing any information you find online. The important thing is to always read any information you find critically. Don’t merely accept what is written as fact without considering the questions above. Journal articles and books have the significant advantage of making these questions easier to answer (authors are named, citations are clear and traceable etc). Information available online can certainly be useful, but you must treat it with care!

Verifying information online