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Honours Project Research for Music Students: Tips on Literature Searching

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Tips for Literature Searching

Here are the must-know database searching tips.

Tips for Literature Searching

When developing keywords for your topic, here are a few general rules to keep in mind: 

  1. Identify nouns and/or noun phrases only
  2. Get rid of noise words (E.g. of, the, an, on)
  3. Use quotation marks for a phrase search (E.g. "digital divide")
  4. Think of similar words/synonyms  

For example, for the topic: 

What are the effects of corporate takeovers on employees?

This is how you can apply the general rules: 

  1. Keep the nouns and/or noun phrases: corporate takeovers, employees
  2. Get rid of noise words: the, off, on effects
  3. Use quotation marks around a phrase: "corporate takeovers"
  4. Think of similar words/synonyms:

corporate takeovers corporate mergers, corporate acquisitions

employees ► staff, human resources, personnel

Searching is a trial and error process.

By experimenting with different keywords and combinations, you would gradually have a better idea of the appropriate terms or keywords that should be used in searching the literature for a particular topic.  

The screenshot below shows the search limits/refinement options available in ABI/INFORM Complete, a major business database.

You should make good use of these options to narrow down your results, especially when you are searching a very broad term. At the top right, it also has the automatic "Cite" option available.

Getting familiar with these functions when searching in a particular database will definitely help save time! 


The use of Subject headings, or Controlled Vocabulary, is a good way to make your search more precise. 

Below is another screenshot from ABI/INFORM Complete.

Here is an article that came up after searching the keyword eWOM. As you can see in the red box, this article is indexed under these subject headings, e.g. business communications, product reviews, word of mouth advertising.

These subject headings may not be the words that you immediately think of when finding keywords for your topic. They help you think of your topic in a broader and/or narrower way. As well, they may even help you discover articles that are very relevant to your topic but did not use the keywords that you originally searched. 

You can click on these subject headings directly to discover further other similar articles.   


If you want to search and/or browse subject headings within ABI/INFORM Complete directly, you can use "Thesaurus" in "Advanced Search", as shown below: