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LTH Master's student guide: Search

This is a helpful tool when writing your master's thesis at LTH (Faculty of Engineering). - by librarian Emma-Lisa Hansson

Why should I plan my searching?

​​Benefits of planning a search

  • It results in retrieving relevant references
  • It avoids missing key references
  • It results in retrieving a manageable number of hits
  • It uses time efficiently 

Why use databases?

  • Quality checked information
  • Ordered structure of the database
  • The ability to search in a structured fashion
  • Specialist content - Indexed and subject classified information
  • Information clearly defined in each database. You know what sources are indexed and searched and from when 

Are search engines your only go to when you are searching? We dare you to go beyond regular search engines 

When it comes to regular search engines there are issues of

  • Hidden information - the hidden web
  • Quality of information 
  • Quantity of information 
  • Limited search options
  • Not able to know what specific sites are being searched, cannot determine how comprehensive

Where to search?

General search tips:

  • Journals, articles, databases & books: LUBsearch
  • Books: LIBRIS
  • Books from Lund University: LUBcat
  • Thesis: Research portal or LUP Student Papers
  • Check out databases? Go to A-Z list
  • Find all the links at LTH Library website

How to search

Search strategies

The easiest way to search for information electronically is to enter a couple of keywords into the search box of the resource and see what type of results you get. This strategy, however, will often result in too few, too many, or irrelevant results.

In order to retrieve the most relevant results, you will need to construct a search string.  A search string is a combination of keywords, truncation and wildcard symbols, and boolean operators which you enter into the search box of an electronic library resource or an online search engine.

Need help? Book a librarian!

Boolean searching (AND, OR, NOT)

Truncation and wildcards enable you to search for variants of the same keyword at the same time – but you also need to be able to combine different keywords in one search.  To do this you need to use Boolean Operators such as AND, OR and NOT.

AND… combines keywords expressing two different concepts.

s” and “injuries” – use the search expression: athletes AND injuries. This retrieves only the articles that contain both keywords, and narrows the search.

 

e.g. If you are searching for information about injuries to athletes then you only want articles that include both of the keywords “athlete

OR… combines two keywords expressing the same concept.

e.g. If you are searching for information about children you may also wish to include articles that use the word “juveniles” instead – use the search expression: children OR juveniles.

This retrieves articles that mention either keyword and broadens the search.

NOT… differentiates two unrelated uses of the same keyword.

e.g. If you are searching for information about the common cold you may find that you retrieve a lot of irrelevant articles that discuss cold in terms of temperature – use the search expression: cold NOT temperature

With these Boolean search operators  at your disposal you can now formulate quite complicated searches, especially if you use brackets to group concepts together.

Why use a search protocol?

While writing on a project you have to keep track on your different searches and there are several ways to do that. One way is to write down when you did your search, the database you used and how many relevant hits you got. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of hits that your search can result in and also by the several databases that we have to offer. This is why a search protocol can simplify the search process.

Please note that different databases demands different search techniques! Always read the help-page to know how to truncate or use the controlled vocabulary.

Phrase searching and Controlled Vocabulary

Phrase searching allows you to search a database for particular words in a particular order. It is useful for names of companies, events etc. Surrounding a group of words with double quotes instructs most databases & search engines to only retrieve documents in which those words appear together and in the same order.

e.g.“global warming”

“Access to Health Records Act”

The use of controlled vocabulary is an alternative to 'free text' searching using keywords.

A number of databases use a thesaurus or structured index of subject terms. These are added to the article by editors, and are independent of the actual language used by the author in the text. You do not need to think of all the variations of a term like 'amputate' and truncation and wild cards are not used. Databases with this facility have a check box for 'subject headings'  'subject terms' or similar.

Free text and controlled vocabulary can be used for different elements of the same search and then be combined with Boolean operators.

Truncation and wildcards

The symbols ? and * is often used to represent wildcards and truncation.

These two symbols can be used together or separately, and at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of a term. To literally search these symbols, enclose them with quotation marks.


The ? wildcard symbol is used as a substitute for a missing character in a search term, usually when you are unsure of a spelling or when you would like to find two forms of one word. For example, if you enter WOM?N, the catalogue locates records containing either "woman" or "women."


The * truncation symbol is used to truncate search terms and can represent a single character, several characters, or no characters. If you follow the * symbol with a number, the catalogue limits the number of characters matched. When more than one term in a search expression is truncated, each term is searched for all variations. For example, if you enter JAME*, the catalogue locates the specified records containing the terms "Jame," "James," "Jameson," and "Jamerton."

Open Access documents

If you search on the databases that Lund univeristy libraries provide, chances are that you wont be able to reach the that much information once you finish your studies or if you study somewhere else. Academic information is very expensive and the univeristies pays a lot of money to get access to academic material. You can start to look for Open Access instead! Open access (OA) is freely available, digital and online information. Open access scholarly literature is free of charge and often carries less restrictive copyright and licensing barriers than traditionally published works, for both the you as a users but also for the authors.

Subject guides

The LTH libraries provides subject guides available for the different subjects! See the list of subject guides below:

Google vs Database with controlled vocabulary

Many people begin searching for information in Google or Google Scholar. In doing so, they are missing the deeper indexing functionality of many databases along with various options to save or download the results. Researchers are better served reviewing the records from a database with deeper indexing, knowing that each citation has “Algorithms” assigned as a Controlled Vocabulary term.