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Research Skills: Starting your search

A guide to help you improve your research skills: make the most of your time to find and retrieve the information you need.

Overview - Finding Information: Where to Search

This guide offers guidance on; 

  1. Identifying your Information need: The first basic steps you should consider for an effective and efficient search strategy; 
  2. Approaching your search process: A reflection on what you as a student or researcher should aim to achieve from your search. 
  3. Information Literacy and you: A short video to help you map the skills we touch on here with your wider learning, teaching or research activity and how you experience information use in the real world.
  4. Where to search: An overview of some of the places you might plan to start your search

Approaching your search

Overview of Information Literacy

The short (5 minute) video below helps to frame why carefully thinking about why you want information, what that information is, and how you could and should use it is important, both as part of your studies or current research, and in how you experience the real world.

(Note: it outlines one model of 'Information Literacy',  from the American Association of College & Research Libraries)

Where to Search?

Collections and Resources available to you

Library Discover

Library Discover


Subject Databases

  • Find journal articles, official publications, or relevant research data; selected by your department's Faculty Librarian
  • Some will be specific to your subject area, some will be multidisciplinary collections which cover your subject area and others.
  • Most databases are supported with online guides or technical support from the supplier. Check out our Subject Guides for key databases within your subject area.
open access

Open Access content

  • Traditionally, many journal articles and academic works have only been available to those who can afford to pay to access, or who attend a university which can afford a subscription.
  • Increasingly, there is a movement to provide 'open access' to all research publications, in particular where there is an element of public funding of research activity.
  • You can search for open access content in services such as CORE, or browse Durham's own open access publications, theses and data. To find out more about open research, check out our guide
Google Scholar

Google Scholar

  • Free to search, familiar to many, easy to use..
  • Searches thousands of sources, mostly academic sources, including books, journals, conference proceedings, theses and more.
  • See these tips for making the most of Google Scholar or attend one of our training sessions to get a feel for what Google Scholar offers, how to get the most from it, and where it may not quite be doing what you expect.
Theses & Dissertations

Doctoral Theses

  • You can access many UK and International Doctoral and Masters theses for free via open access theses repositories and linked services.
  • Durham e-Theses holds all Durham Doctoral and Masters by Research Theses awarded since 2009, many of which are already accessible for free.
  • May be useful both for the subject content, but can also be helpful for new and prospective PGRs in understanding expectations around structure, writing and referencing.

Newspapers, news services on related archives

  • A large range of UK and International papers available online via services such as Nexis UK and Factiva
  • Historic newspaper collections available covering several centuries worth of content available online, or via our microfilm and special collections.
  • Audio and visual newsreel collections from across the 20th century.

Maps and Socio-economic Data Services

  • Free and subscription access services providing useable maps and geographic data for research purposes (such as use with arcGIS).
  • Free and subscription data services covering UK and International data collected by various organisations, for varying purposes.
  • Additional historic materials held within our print and special collections.

Museums and Special Collections


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