Finding useful information that is relevant to your research topic, can be what defines the quality of your paper. Many times, the research prosses can be quite tedious and overwhelming; thousands of results to look at and many of them are not even relevant to our research topic. Here I will introduce you to some tips that will make your research more effective and hopefully more gratifying.
- Understand your research question.
This one might seem a little obvious, but I have seen people spending hours looking at articles that are not relevant at all for their topics, all because they misunderstood their question. For example, if you want to know the effects of stress during pregnancy on the unborn child, you might find it tempting to look at articles about causes of stress in pregnant mothers, and although it can bring some nice information, it is also taking you away from the main goal of your research, the effects.
- Before you go to any database like Web of Science or Pub Med, make a list with your keywords and write down in simple phrases the main topics that you want to talk about. This will help you later when creating your keyword profile.
- Use a keyword profile, this consists of different terms put in the research bar that will help you get the most relevant information. For this, use the Boolean operators that I will explain as follows:
- And: this will indicate that both the terms before and after the and have to appear in the search. For example, you can put effects AND causes of stress to look for the stress and causes of stress. Have in mind that all the terms have to be mention or an article will not appear.
- Or: this indicates that one term can be replaced by another, for example you can write effects or causes of stress, this will show you articles that are related either to effects or to the causes of stress.
- Not: this will indicate that certain term is to be ignored. For example, you can put effects and stress not animals, this will tell the search engine to ignore all animal related articles
- “” Quotes: this will tell the search engine to look for exactly what you put in the quotes in that exact order. For example, if you put “automatic change” you will not get results that say automatic global change nor autonomous change.
- * star: this one tells the search engine that it can finish the word after the star with whatever letters can appear, this is very useful for plurals or nouns that can vary in form but not definition. For example, if you put auto* the search will include terms that star with auto as automatic, autonomous, automatization, etc. or if you put dog* it will also include the plural dogs in the search.
- Be careful here, it might be useful sometimes but can also trhow results that are completely unrelated.
- () parenthesis: this will allow you to mix several Boolean operators.
Imagine that you want to investigate about the effects that stress has during pregnancy, if you look for “effects of stress on pregnancy” on web of science, you will get more than 6000 results and not all relevant to your question, but if you put something like “Effects AND ("psychological stress" OR "maternal stress") AND (pregna* OR embryo OR fetus* OR prenatal OR premature OR preterm OR delivery OR birth OR labor) AND (dead OR death OR stillbirth OR "spontaneous abortion" OR miscarriage OR abortion OR complication* OR problem* OR feticide OR termination OR "pregnancy loss" OR fetal death)” you will reduce your findings to 250 and you left out a lot of misleading information.
- Use scientific data bases like pubmed or web of science and stay away from Google Scholar. Although it might seem like a good idea to use google on your research, it includes a lot of bad articles that could have been written by anyone, plus the problem that Google will look everywhere for anything that can be somehow similar to what you are looking for. Try putting the same keyword profile that I gave you before, you will get over 24000 results, and if you just write “effects of stress on pregnancy” you will obtain over 2 million results!
These are the most important tips that can help you get the most relevant information for your research, but also some important things that you can have in mind is to preferably look for peer reviewed articles since these are more reliable, reviews and metanalysis can summarize a lot of information which can be quite useful and most important, if you are not sure about the way you research is going, ask a teacher, they know better than anyone how to get proper information and what articles might be useful for you.