Plan your search

Getting an overview

During the early stages of your thesis work, you need to get an overview of your chosen field. This will help you in the process of identifying your research question, method and general approach. At this point, you may find it useful to skim through a few different sources. Some of them will continue to be valuable resources as your project progresses, while others will only be useful at the beginning.

Finding background information

  • General encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica cover a wide range of fields, and can direct you to more comprehensive sources.
  • Field-specific encyclopedias (for example, the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences) provide thorough introductions. The authors are experts in their own fields, and have charted the central literature in review articles.
  • Textbooks from the syllabus and reading lists can introduce and guide you to sources that allow you to dig deeper into the subject field.
  • The news archive Press Reader gives you access to the world’s leading newspapers and magazines. The archive is available through most libraries in Norway.
  • Public information, such as reports, government white papers and statistics, are easily accessible on the internet, for example see, Statistics Norway, The World Bank, or Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Finding scholarly literature

Once you have gained an overview of the subject, and your research question is emerging, you will need information that reviews the subject more thoroughly. The academic community expects you to base your assignment on scientific sources. Articles in peer-reviewed journals are the most important point of entry to scientific sources, in addition to books. The term peer-review means that the manuscript has been reviewed by expert scientists prior to publication.

This module, “Plan your search”, first and foremost aims to give you an introduction in how to search using academic search tools and databases, but there are other ways to find scholarly literature, and here are some examples:

  • Get tips from your lecturer or supervisor
  • Review reference lists of relevant articles or books
  • Examine lists of who have cited relevant articles. Search tools like Web of Science and Google Scholar provide this information – look for “Cited by”.
  • Search within relevant journals.
  • Search for publications by prominent authors within the subject field.

Selecting databases

Through your library’s websites, you have access to databases covering a wide range of disciplines. A database is an electronic archive that contains different types of sources. Some databases are interdisciplinary, while others cover only a specific field. Field-specific databases provide better coverage of the literature in that field compared to more general databases. Familiarize yourself with the databases that are relevant to your subject, keeping in mind that no databases cover everything. They overlap and complement each other. Therefore, it is important to use multiple databases to get an overview.

Listed below are some interdisciplinary databases that can be used as a starting point for searching before moving on to the field-specific databases:

  • Oria is the research libraries’ search tool. Here you will find, among others, textbooks, master’s theses, dissertations and journal articles.
  • Google Scholar is the academic collection of Google. It indexes scientific literature from scholarly archives and publishers. Most of the sources are reputable, but some might not be – so be critical.
  • Idunn is the Scandinavian University Press (Universitetsforlaget) digital publishing platform for academic journals and books. It is available in most libraries in Norway.
  • The research archives NORA and Cristin (Current Research Information System in Norway) contain research done in the health/institute sector as well as the university/college sector.

Finding good search terms

Good search terms are the key to finding the literature you are seeking. Use your research question as a starting point, and identify thematic elements. When these are ready, you must find suitable search terms. Remember to include synonyms: are there more terms that are used to describe the thematic elements you are seeking?


To avoid random and unsystematic searching, it might be a good idea set up a plan for your search. This will probably save you some time, and ensure that all the thematic elements in your research question are included. Note which search terms you are planning to use and how to combine them using a search table.

Language and terminology

Use subject-related terminology when you are searching. Subject-related terminology can be found in glossaries, textbooks and scientific articles. Read abstracts and check author’s keywords. Subject-specific databases have built-in thesauruses with recognized subject terms and their associated synonyms. Though Oria provides search results in both Norwegian and English, you might miss many relevant documents if you only choose Norwegian search terms. Most international databases require that you search in English.


  • Use subject specific terminology.
  • Note that for each thematic element there might be many synonyms and related terms that are relevant to include.
  • Keep in mind that terms which are useful in one database may be less useful in another.

Use the search tools’ options to limit a long result list. In most cases, you can limit to publication year, language, document type and larger subject fields. But beware: any limitation can lead to losing important information.

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