Doing your literature search

Here is some advice you might find useful when searching for literature.

Do not hesitate to talk to us at the reference desk. Furthermore, we offer a range of training courses dedicated to literature search.

Regardless of your topic, it is essential to identify the key concepts of your question and to choose search terms before beginning with your literature search. This will enable you to decide which research instrument is the most appropriate.

Defining your search terms

A detailed preparation will render your literature search more efficient and will therefore help you to find relevant literature more quickly.

Before starting your literature search, identify appropriate search terms for your topic. You can find them e.g. in dictionaries, encyclopedias or lexica. Textbooks can provide alternative perspectives and more detailed information on your search topic.

Sample collection of search terms for the topic "Internal communication in small businesses"


How to find search terms:

  • Include terms in different languages (Most databases record publications in English).
  • Include different spellings.
  • Include singular and plural forms.
  • Consider subject jargon and colloquial language/terms (Use special thesauri, e.g. the Thesaurus of Economics).

Defining types of literature

At the beginning of your search, identify the types of publications you need. Depending on what you are writing (seminar paper, bachelor or master thesis), the scope of needed literature varies.

Another point to consider is the time span of publication, i.e. do you only include the latest publications or also older ones.

Different types of literature have different focuses:

  • Books: overview of a topic
  • Articles from journals: current scientific information
  • Articles from newspapers: current events
  • Information and data on corporations, statistical data

It is best to use different search tools and information sources for different forms of publications (see "Deciding which catalogues and databases to search").

Deciding which catalogues and databases to search

Depending on which kinds of information sources and publications you are interested in, use different access points for your literature search.

+ Library Catalogue

When searching for books and e-books, printed or digital journals, the Library Catalogue is the appropriate starting point.

Articles can also be searched. Results are shown in the second tab “Articles & more”.

The Library Catalogue lists all materials, which are available at Bayreuth University Library. Moreover, you can check the collections of other libraries in Germany.

If you would like to read a certain article and you are not sure whether the University Library provides access, search for the title of the book or journal in which the article was published in the Catalogue. If the book or journal is owned/licensed by the University Library as a printed or digital version, you can copy or download the article.

Do not search for the article in our catalogue because only a limited number of articles is indexed in our catalogue.

+ Databases

For extending the search for articles we recommend databases or topical bibliographies as research instruments. Databases bring together a large number of research articles, often concentrating on a particular subject area. There are also databases for statistical and biographical information, newspaper portals etc.

All our databases are listed in DBIS (database information system). Read the description of the databases and consider the following questions:
  • What kind of information has been evaluated? Scholarly publications, newspaper articles, statistical data, encyclopedia entries, legal sources?
  • In which language are the documents provided?
  • What is the review period of the database?
When selecting a database, make sure whether it is a purely bibliographic database or a full-text database. A bibliographic database contains bibliographic information, such as author, title, year of publication etc. but not the corresponding document. See our site "Articles & more" for further information about obtaining literature.

Learn more on the DBIS website.

+ Subject information

We compiled a survey of possible access points for your search and contact persons for every subject. Please choose your subject.

+ Internet

Besides search engines like Google or Yahoo, which aim to index as much of the internet as possible without reviewing the quality of the search results, there are also special search engines which focus on selected, scholarly internet sources. Examples are BASE, Econbiz and Google Scholar.
Strategic search

Developing your search strategy

+ Search strategies

Start your literature search in different library catalogues and online bibliographies. Besides running a basic search we recommend to do an extended search by using categories such as subject heading or topic (subject headings in the Bayreuth Library Catalogue are written in German language).

Make use of bibliographic references in books you have already found. Cited publications may lead to other relevant texts. Some databases link publications with similar content or list references contained in a text.

Browsing shelves in the library can also deliver worthwhile results. Our books are arranged according to subjects. Therefore books on the same topic can be found on the same shelf.

Ask your supervisor to recommend important journals or manuals. If these are marked with a full text button in the Library Catalogue you can search the full text for any search terms.

Databases: Set up alerts to get the most recent results for your search queries via email. Or create search profiles to save search queries. To use these functions, you have to create a personal profile.

+ Search terms and query syntax

What is the difference between subject heading and key word? What are Boolean operators? Why should I use truncation or phrase search?

The Library of the University of Leeds provides comprehensive guidelines on how to develop your search strategy.

Reviewing your search

Review your results after every search and also document your search strategy. This will help you to modify your next search in order to be more efficient. Please allow for sufficient time to search, obtain and read your literature. The University Library offers a wide range of literature on academic writing and literature search. Please consult the Library Catalogue.


Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions concerning your search. We offer training courses on literature search. You can arrange individual appointments with members of the reference team or our subject specialists.