Finding Resources: The Basics

Who is this for?

If you’ve not used the Library before, or you don’t feel confident using LibSearch to locate your reading, then this page will help you. If you’re looking for search strategy advice and using databases, try our advanced searching guide.

What do you need to read?

For most courses, you’ll be given a reading list covering (at least) the core texts you will find useful. These readings are the first place to start when you want to begin building up your knowledge – but where do you get your reading lists from? Well, some lecturers will provide copies as part of their sessions (either via PowerPoint slides or handouts), others will make lists available via the Learn page (Blackboard) associated with your course. However, the main place to find your reading lists is the online reading list system.

The reading list system is a fantastic tool as not only does it allow you to access your lists from anywhere in the world, but it also links you directly to e-resources and catalogue records for print books. So, you can get hold of your resources without needing to spend hours searching!

This short video will show you how to access your lists, so hop onto the reading list system and give it a try.

Finding a book

If you have a particular book you are looking for (from a reading list or otherwise), then you can find it using LibSearch – UEA’s library catalogue tool for searching all our print stock and most of our electronic resources too!

Let’s start with a simple search: looking up the details of a book you wish to borrow. The following video will show you how to find the necessary information, fast.

Before we go any further, try to find the library record for the following two books using LibSearch and check if you found the correct item by clicking the ‘check the answer’ button to be taken to the catalogue record for the book.

Exercise #1

Neville, C. (2007) The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. Maidenhead: OUP


Exercise #2

Cree, V. (2008) Social Work: Making a Difference. Bristol: Policy Press


ExclamationWe also have many e-books, which can be accessed worldwide. To learn more about accessing e-books, visit our finding an e-book page.

Finding resources for yourself

A reading list is a great starting point, but it is just that: a starting point. You will also need to find resources for yourself and demonstrate that you have the ability to find relevant wider reading (and read it!).

Before you start searching

Before you start searching the library catalogue for resources, you need to break down your essay question / topic and work out which keywords you will be searching for.

Let’s start with an example essay question:

SSRIs are efficacious in the treatment of young people with depression. Discuss.

To break down an essay question, what you need to do is pull out the core concepts – in this case, this means identifying the group of people to which the question pertains (young people with depression) and the mode of treatment being investigated (SSRIs). You will see that these have been highlighted in the example above.

We will look at how run a search in the library catalogue for these keywords in a moment, but before we do, try to identify the keywords / concepts in these two examples and see how well you do.

Exercise #1

Summarise research into the different biomarkers that have been found to be useful in identifying early onset Alzheimer’s.


Exercise #2

Compare the different treatment options for coronary heart disease.


Hopefully you are pretty good at picking out the keywords from an essay question. But there is one more step in generating a list of keywords to search with: identifying alternative words that might have been used to describe the same thing.

Let’s look at Exercise #2 above for a good example of this. Hopefully, you pulled out the key term coronary heart disease. If so, that’s great. However, coronary heart disease could also be known by its acronym CHD or a less common term like ischaemic heart disease. To make sure you don’t miss any important papers, you’ll want to run a search that looks for all the key ways a concept could be labelled.

For a summary of how to identify keywords for a search, watch this short video:


Finding a journal article

At degree level, you’ll be expected to draw on cutting-edge research. Much of this is found in academic journals – regular publications, which feature new research and articles. To learn more about academic journals, watch this short video from La Trobe University:

Using LibSearch, you search for article-level information. This means you are pulling from a very large pool of information so being as specific as possible helps (to quantify this, the difference between searching at the journal level and article level is equivalent to searching for ‘The Guardian’ online where you’d have one main hit, and searching for any of the hundreds of thousands of articles available at The Guardian‘s website).

So, let’s get specific. This is where the keyword work we did before starting out our search becomes really useful. Let’s imagine we wanted to find articles on the question we looked at previously:

Compare the different treatment options for coronary heart disease.

We established that coronary heart disease might be known by different terms so we would want to find articles that refer to either coronary heart disease or CHD or ischaemic heart disease. And, specifically, we want to investigate treatments of this disease.

Knowing this, we could put the following into the LibSearch search bar:

coronary heart disease CHD ischaemic heart disease treatment

But this won’t work very well as we’re not structuring our search and therefore we won’t get the best results back. So what do we do? We search smarter. 

What we actually wanted LibSearch to do was show us any articles which contained any one of the terms coronary heart disease, CHD, or ischaemic heart disease and the term treatment. But how do we tell LibSearch that?

Let’s start by making sure LibSearch doesn’t break our terms up into individual words. The way to stop this is by putting terms in speech marks, e.g. “coronary heart disease”. When submitted like this, LibSearch understands that the words should be treated as one whole phrase rather than as individual words. If we do that with our three terms for coronary heart disease, we get:

“coronary heart disease” “CHD” “ischaemic heart disease”

When LibSearch runs this search, it will now interpret it as:

coronary heart disease OR CHD OR ischaemic heart disease

Result. But we’re not done yet. We now want to include the term treatment. However, the terms we’ve put together above all refer to one concept (the disease); treatment is a separate concept altogether. To help LibSearch identify this fact, we will use brackets to separate the two concepts.

(concept 1, synonym for concept 1) (concept 2, synonym for concept 2) (concept 3, synonym for concept 3) etc.

Between each concept in our search, we will also put AND – this tells LibSearch that we want to see articles that refer to both of our concepts, not just one. So our search will look like this:

(“coronary heart disease” OR “CHD” OR “ischaemic heart disease”) AND treatment

(Note, no brackets or speech marks were used for treatment as this is just one term and so brackets/speech marks would be redundant.)

Try running that search in LibSearch and see how many results you get back. I got 8! Pretty clever, right? But we’re not done yet, there are a couple of clever tricks we can use to make this search string even better.

First, ischaemic is sometimes spelled ischemic – be aware of different spellings of words, particularly American-English vs. British-English. In this case, both spellings refer to the same concept so we just need to tell LibSearch we are happy for either spelling to appear. To do this, we replace the a with a ? to get isch?emic.

Secondly, treatment could actually be listed as treatments. To tell LibSearch that we would like any variation of treatment, we just need to put an * at the end to get treatment*. You can do this as early in a word as you like, for example, therap* would return anything with therapy, therapist, therapeutic in it. Be careful though, it could also return resources with therapose, therapon, theraposture, or any other alternative.   

So if we add these two nifty tricks into our search string, we get the following:

(“coronary heart disease” OR “CHD” OR “isch?emic heart disease”) AND treatment*

Now, that is a good search string.

Being able to search like this will save you time in trying to find the right resources and also allow you to demonstrate excellent knowledge by identifying resources you may well have missed if you’d had to deal with hundreds of thousands of results and cherry pick the few that looked relevant.

That’s a lot of information to take in, if you’d like a lighter refresher, watch this video on Boolean Operators (the name for the OR, AND, etc. tools we’ve just used).

Now it’s time for you to have a go. See what you can find on LibSearch that relates to the following question:

Describe the lives of medical staff working in Norwich in the eighteenth century

There is no wrong or right answer, but see how you get on and check your working against my example by hitting the ‘see the answer’ button when you’ve made an attempt. Remember, plan your search words before going on the computer and then think about how the library catalogue will interpret your search.


That’s the end of this guide – if you’re feeling pumped for more search-related fun, why not go onto our advanced searching guide where we’ll look at developing search strings in more detail and where else to run searches? Otherwise, happy searching!