Finding relevant literature

Duration: 4 minutes

Find out what databases you can consult for your research, how to use keywords and filters effectively, and how to use the snowball system.

What’s most important?
  • Consult different databases.
  • Find out which keywords and filters work best for you.
  • Use the snowball system.

Consulting different databases

Whether you’re looking for e-books, print books or journals, you can’t get around the catalogs of various databases or shops. By now, almost every library also has an online catalog that you can access.

Here are some places to look at:

  • University library catalogs
  • State or city library catalogs
  • Data bases for scientific papers
  • Google Scholar
  • Hausarbeiten shop

Finding keywords and using filters efficiently

Most catalogs work like this:

Type in your keyword(s) in the search mask

Using appropriate keywords is essential to receive relevant search results. To keep track of your keywords, keep track of them in a list. You can find keywords by looking at your table of contents (if you already have one), by looking at the titles in your search results, or by reading articles on the topic. Many catalogs will even suggest similar keywords to you. If a suitable text is displayed, you can take a closer look at it, and you’ll find helpful keywords related to your topic.

Also try different keyword combinations to refine your search. Choose terms that fit together thematically or will appear together in a chapter of your paper. However, make sure that you only combine two or three terms at a time, otherwise, the search might not be generating many relevant results.

Use filters

For some topics, you’ll hardly find any literature. For others, you’ll get thousands of search results, and you’ll have to find the most relevant texts. Luckily, you can narrow down and refine your search with filters. Here are some common filter options:

Year of publication

In what cases should you filter by year of publication?

Many faculties or supervisors ask for current literature as source material for your paper. This is particularly the case if you’re examining current trends or the latest state of science. It is best to ask your supervisor if you’re allowed to use older literature. However, if you are researching something historical, it can sometimes be important to consult older literature as well. In this case, make sure that you situate the texts, i.e. consider the context of their publication (e.g. state of science at the time, political circumstances etc.).


In what cases should you filter by subject?

Most topics can be assigned to a specific subject. In many catalogs, there is a subject filter that you can select once you have entered one or more keywords. For example, in a term paper on “Pirates of the Caribbean”, you can enter the film title as a keyword and then display results from the subject Film Studies. Sometimes you will find certain topics in different subject areas, so it is worthwhile to have a look at another subject. In this way, you can look at your topic from different angles, because each subject has different emphases and questions.


In what cases should you filter by language?

If you’re proficient in more than one language, it is a good idea to look for research published in other languages. The most common language of science is English but depending on the subject area, other languages may also be common. So, if there is no suitable or sufficient literature available in your native language that matches your topic, have a look at the other languages you know.

Text category

In what cases should you filter by text category?

Are you specifically looking for research published in a journal? Or are you looking for extensive technical books? Then, this filter works for you. Some research topics predominantly appear in specific types of publications. For example, if you’re looking for a controversial essay, you’ll probably have better luck in a journal or anthology than in a monograph.

Using the snowball system efficiently

Once you’ve found reading material for your research, you can continue researching from there. At the end of the text, there is usually an inconspicuous treasure: the list of references. After all, the author(s) who wrote the text also did research on their topic. Take a good look at this list and consider looking at these sources yourself. Repeat this with all texts, and gradually expand your research.

This way, a suitable source serves as a starting point for your research. Use its list of references or bibliography to find further reading material relevant to your paper. This method is called the snowball system.

snowball system
⚠ Don’ts
  • Don’t just look at one catalog.
  • Don’t use only one keyword when searching a database.
  • Don’t forget to consult the bibliography of list of references of a text to find additional literature.

Test yourself: Do you know how to find relevant literature for your paper?

What database can be useful for your research?

  1. The database of a dating app
  2. The catalog of the university library
  3. Wikipedia  

   B – The catalog of the university library.

What keywords can you combine to refine your search results?

  1. Terms that fit together thematically
  2. Terms with the same initial letter
  3. Terms that rhyme with each other

   A – Terms that fit together thematically.

What filter can you use to refine your search results?

  1. The “Year of Publication” filter
  2. An Instagram filter
  3. A coffee filter

   A – For example, the “publication year” filter can help you find recent publications that reflect the current state of research.

What languages can you use for your research?

  1. All the languages you’ve always wanted to learn
  2. All languages that you know
  3. All Elvish languages

   B – If you can understand multiple languages, you can expand your research and get access to a wider range of literature on a given topic.

What is the snowball system?

  1. A method to find free literature
  2. A method to find high quality books on different weather phenomena
  3. A method to get more literature by using the bibliography or list of references of another text

   C – A method to get more literature by using the bibliography or list of references of another text.

Did you enjoy?
So check out these modules:

  • Module 3
    Duration: 4 minutes

    Possibilities of online research

    Learn how to tell if an online source is reliable, how to work with university-affiliated databases, and how to make the best use of digital texts.