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Advanced Literature Search

If you need to search systematically for information or literature in a database, you can start by seeing the video "Building Block Search Strategy explained" where we'll walk you through the basic principles within a systematic literature search.

Try then to follow these steps:

Look for reading materials about paper-/thesis writing or find tips on how to get started at Writing your papers and thesis.  You can also find literature via the SDU Library's Summon tool, and see which materials we have within the field.

Start by getting the term definitions in place. If you write a section or chapter where you briefly explain the most important terms used in the assignment / thesis, this can help to clarify your problem and process. Here you can include your own understanding and i.e. set it up against other people's definitions of the concepts. We recommend that you look up your terms in the library's subject encyclopedias and reference works, which is more qualified than using random definitions from google.


Select the most important terms from your problem formulation, research question or field of interest as your key search terms. Put them into a table with the keyterms on top in each column. Insert any synonyms and side-by-side terms under each keyterm. If your are searching for international publiced research you need to use English terms. 

1. 2. 3. 4.
drop-out higher education preventing ...
drop out universities impede
dropout ...

Also see the video Building Block Search Strategy explained (9:22) above.

Explore and figure out which databases or other search tools could be most relevant for your field of interest.

Get aquainted with the Library A-Z- database list* or use the Database Subject List.

You can also contact your supervisor, teacher or ask a librarian.

*Please note: When opening the A-Z List the text is in Danish. Use the browser translate feature (in Chrome and Firefox) - right click and choose "Translate to..." to translate to your language.

Don't expect to find all relevant literature at once. It can be an advantage to switch between searching, reading, writing in a continuous process. You keep getting smarter for every time you search; constantly finding more and better keyterms during the process, which you can insert into your search table, and then you subsequently can search even more focused.

If can pay off to take some time to search for what is already published on your topic. Try to search widely and be open to other angles on your topic. If you find loads of material on the subject, then you might want to find another angle. Or if you don't find any, then it can be either smart because you have found an undescribed field - or you might fall short on gathering enough material.

Decrease by ...
  • adding more focus blocks in the table (using the AND operator in the search)
  • using more specific search terms
  • using the databases opportunities to limit on full text access, peer reviewed articles, subject terms, etc.

Increase by ...

  • adding synonyms and side-by-side terms to each keyterm's block in the table (using the OR operator in the search)
  • using truncation(mostly * or ?) which replaces all different suffixes or prefixes.
  • using more superior terms.

Look up the search database's help feature to get further concrete tips on searching. If you have difficulties finding your way around, then feel free to contact us at the library.

Scroll through your search result: Read the abstracts or descriptions and note the subject terms, which most resourcers are enriched with. Are they relevant for your field of interest? Maybe your search inspires you to get even more exact search terms, you can add to your search table.

Some times you will have to wait for your ordered literature. Maybe we have order special titles from abroad. Make sure you can language the literature you order. And use your time wisely, while you wait. Maybe you can start some where else in you paper/thesis. Can you get by with some similar material? Can you buy it?

Get acquainted with the literature as you recieve it. Read the index, back side text, foreword and conclusion, and evaluate the reliability, relevance, and actuality according to your field of interest. Will the material be sufficient? Or do you need to find something else or more?
If you want to be sure, you haven't missed vital information, you can always ask a librarian.

Find out how much time you have before deadline and plan your time according to this. Information search and retrieval can be time consuming, and at some point you have to move on. You need also time to read - and write obviously. You never get it all - and that is quite common, just remember to explain the angles you have chosen and what delimitations you have made.

If you want to read more about systematic literature search, you can find the chapter "Literature and information search for your paper" by Rasmussen, Remvig & Wien (The Good Paper, 2. ed., 2018, chap. 5). You can order the book at the library.

Last Updated 28.05.2022