Editing a research paper

Search for literature

A literature search is a considered and organised search to find key literature on a topic. To complete a thorough literature search you should:

  • define what you are searching for
  • decide where to search
  • develop a search strategy
  • refine your search strategy
  • save your search for future use.

Define your search question

You should form a search question before you begin. Reframing your research project into a defined and searchable question will make your literature search more specific and your results more relevant.

You should start by deciding the topic of your search. This means identifying the broad topic, refining it to establish which particular aspect of the topic interests you, and reframing that topic as a question. Once you have a searchable question, highlight the major concepts. You should then find keywords and phrases to express the different concepts. It may be useful to create a concept map. First identify the major concepts within your question and then organise your appropriate key terms.

Decide where to search and develop a search strategy

Online databases are the most effective way to search for journal articles on a topic. Databases help you to find a broad range of evidence, including peer-reviewed academic articles, monography, conference proceedings, reports, financial data and statistics.

Additionally, it is possible to search for citations in the databases, which can supplement your search in the literature.

A search strategy is an organised structure of key terms used to search a database. The search strategy combines the key concepts of your search question in order to retrieve accurate results.

Your search strategy will account for all:

  • possible search terms
  • keywords and phrases
  • truncated and wildcard variations of search terms

Each database works differently so you need to adapt your search strategy for each database. You may wish to develop a number of separate search strategies if your research covers several different areas. It is a good idea to test your strategies and refine them after you have reviewed the search results.

Refine your search

Selection of search terms

Searches can often produce large numbers of results. Your goal is to consider each concept and come up with a list of different ways to express them. To find alternative keywords or phrases for your concepts, try the following:

  • use the thesaurus to identify synonyms
  • search for your concepts on a search engine such as Google Scholar
  • browse abstracts or articles for alternative words, phrases

Once you've done that, you should have lists of words and phrases for each concept. As you search and browse through articles and abstracts, you may discover various key terms to improve your search strategy.

Use of wildcards

You can use the wildcards '*' and '?' For both the search terms and the keywords.

'*' represents zero or more characters. For example, the search text 'run *' would match 'run', 'runs', and 'running'.

'?' represents one exact character. For example, 'run?' will match 'runs' and 'rung' but not 'run' or 'running'.

Use of Boolean operators

You can use boolean operators in your query, including AND, OR, and NOT to improve search efficiency. Boolean operators can increase search efficiency by narrowing or broadening the scope of the search for e.g:

  • innovation AND "database" - Narrows your search to topics that contain both the term innovation and database anywhere in the document.
  • innovations OR "database" - expands your search to topics that contain the term innovation or the phrase database anywhere in the document.
  • innovations NOT "database" - topics that contain the term innovations and do not contain the phrase database are searched for anywhere in the document.
  • innovations OR "development" NOT "database" - documents are searched, which at any place contain the term innovation or the phrase development and do not contain the phrase database.

Refine your search

Searches can often produce large numbers of results. This may be an appropriate number for a systematic review where you need to ensure your search is very comprehensive. However, if your search retrieves several irrelevant results, techniques can be used make your search more effective.

Ways to restrict and widen your search

  • check your spelling: databases will not usually auto-correct, so they will only find what you type.
  • use a broader search question.
  • do you need to search more databases?
  • could you add more search terms? Look for variations in spelling and alternative words.
  • discuss your topic with your supervisor.

If you have too many results, you may have to focus your search and make it more specific

  • have you used Boolean operators correctly? For example, have you used AND when you should have used OR?
  • applying filters (release date, language, type of publication)
  • narrow the topic down by using more specific keywords

Semantic review

A systematic review is a complex piece of research that aims to identify, select and synthesise all research published on a particular question or topic. It adheres to a strict scientific design based on pre-specified and reproducible methods. It provides reliable information about the current state of knowledge on a given topic and where there are gaps. You can use this to guide future research. You can use this to guide future research.

Usually, a systematic review will include a search methodology, in which you document where, when and how you looked for information, as well as who you consulted. To find out more about the process of a systematic review, you may find Oxford University’s in-depth Systematic Reviews guide useful.

The first stage of preparing a systematic review is to formulate its purpose, i.e., a specific, precisely formulated research question, which consists of several specific elements - criteria specifying the purpose of the review.

The next step is to create a report / protocol. The protocol, i.e., a detailed systematic review plan, is developed at the beginning of the project, and at later stages it is verified and modified. The preparation of the protocol is an essential part of the work on the systematic review. It should define first of all: theoretical background, review question, literature search strategy, test selection criteria and procedures, checklists for testing quality assessment and methods, data extraction strategy, synthesis of the extracted research results and the project schedule.

Subsequently, the research subject is selected, i.e., the set of publications that will be analyzed. Sampling is a multi-stage process. The key task at this stage is the proper extraction of databases and keywords.

Your search methodology should document where you looked for information and how many results were found. Keep track of your activities as you search. It is much harder after the event to justify the decisions you made and to remember what you found in each source.

The procedure for creating systematic research reviews can be described in a few steps:

  • formulation of a research question;
  • preparation of a protocol / report;
  • literature searches, data ordering and selection of items;
  • data analysis;
  • interpretation of results and conclusions;
  • publication and dissemination.

Save your search

Save copies of the useful records you find and where possible save a copy of your search strategy. This will ensure that you don’t have to repeat work.

Bibliographty manager

Bibliography management tools (also known as citation or reference management tools) help you organize your research sources and generate bibliographies in muliple citation formats. All of the tools will help you organize your research references and all include a plug-in for word processing programs to format citations and create bibliographies. But some of the tools offer other features, such as support for collaboration, a web-based interface, and mobile applications.

Among the free bibliography managers worth mentioning is Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote Basic available for free as part of a Clarivate Analytics product subscription.

Mendeley is a PDF and citation manager that indexes and organizes your research library into a digital bibliography. The program includes a collaboration component that allows you to share citations with other researchers. Mendeley is both a desktop application and a web-based application.

Mendeley is a "freemium" service, offering a free basic plan and a premium service for an additional fee. The Mendeley Free Edition provides 2GB of personal storage space, 100 MB of shared library space, up to 25 collaborators, and up to 5 private groups.

Documentation and tutorials (https://www.mendeley.com/guides/videos):

EndNote Basic is software package for creating bibliographies and managing references. Most of research databases allow you to export citations into EndNote.

There are four versions available:

  • EndNote Basic (Free Version) is a no-cost limited web version with 21 styles and a limited number of filters and connection files. This version is available to anyone. A maximum of 50,000 references and of 2 GB of attachments is allowed.
  • EndNote Basic (Web of Science Version) is a limited web-based version available to Stanford faculty, students, and staff as part of our subscription to Web of Science. Like the free version of EndNote Basic, a maximum of 50,000 references and of 2 GB of attachments is allowed. In addition, the Web of Science version of EndNote Basic has over 6,000 styles and hundreds of filters and connection files.

Documentation and tutorials:

Zotero is a web-based, open-source citation management tool that is designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references, such as books and articles. In Zotero, each of these references constitutes an item. Items can be everything from books, articles, and documents to web pages, artwork, films, sound recordings, bills, cases, or statutes, among many others. Zotero is both a desktop application and a browser extension with plug-ins to word processing programs.

Zotero is available with basic features for free, with a fee structure for additional storage. Two options are available:

  • Zotero for Firefox, a Firefox browser extension.
  • Zotero Standalone is a desktop application that integrates with Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Firefox but without the integrated features of Zotero for Firefox.

Documentation and tutorials:

Third-Party add-ons

CitationStyles.org is the home of the Citation Style Language (CSL), an open XML-based language to describe the formatting of citations and bibliographies. CSL is used by Zotero, Mendeley and Papers to add and edit citation styles.

Paper Machines is an open-source extension for the Zotero bibliographic management software. Its purpose is to allow individual researchers to generate analyses and visualizations of user-provided text, without requiring extensive computational resources or technical knowledge.

Where to publish

It is important to find the most appropriate journal to send your research to. Here are some tips on how to evaluate a journal's peer-review process, open access metrics and options, and how to identify predatory journals.

Consider your goals

It’s useful to think about what you want to achieve. Who is your intended audience, and what is the best way to reach them? Are you looking to influence policy? Do you want to reach specialists outside of your discipline or engage the public? Are you looking to publish in an established journal, or would an alternative venue provide a better fit?

Scope with a literature search

During the early stages of your research, consider running a literature search to highlight journals you might be unaware of, or changing trends in your area. This can help you access key evidence and find out where the most important articles in your research discipline are published.

Check the journal information

When you find a journal that interests you, check the journal's goals and scope, editorial criteria and processes, acceptance rate, and average time from submission to publication. Also find out where the journal is indexed, such as whether it is indexed in major databases such as Scopus and the Web of Science. These databases rank journals against quality criteria before indexing them, such as for peer review and editorial boards. If a journal is included in these two major multidisciplinary databases, it is more likely to be credible. It is also more likely that studies published in these journals will be discovered.

Check for DOIs

Check that the journal allocates Digital Object Identifiers. A DOI is an international and permanent identifier that ensures a persistent link that can be cited and tracked.

How to evaluate journals

Multidisciplinary databases maintain their own collections of journals classified into different subject areas according to journal scope. Use these databases to find journal metrics and descriptions to help make a decision about where to publish.

Quantitative tools such as citation rates are Journal Citation Reports (JCR) and Scopus, DOAJ or SCImago Journal Rank (SJR).

Be aware of predatory publishers

Predatory publishers may make untrue claims about their peer review and quality control processes on their sites to charge for the processing of articles. These publishers often have poor review and quality control processes or completely bypass these processes. Research work may also not be properly archived, which will result in the lack of long-term open access to research.

Predatory journals can spam researchers with requests for articles that promise quick publication or the prospect of joining the editorial board. It is also common practice to use a title referring to a specific country, when in fact it has nothing to do with it. You can check such a relationship through the ISSN portal.

A predatory journal may also be indicated by the fact that the contact address is at Gmail, and the journal has no full editorial address anywhere.

The journal is open to the public, but no information is given on how the journal is financially supported (i.e., copyright, advertising, sponsorship, etc.)

Journals titles, as well as the names of predatory publishers, are often similar to the titles / names of publishers of prestigious magazines. They can differ in one word, have a changed word order, or have mixed terms for different titles. The practice of hijacked journal is also used, which means that, like the page of a prestigious journal, a false page is prepared, where, unlike the original, it is most often multidisciplinary.

To check a potential publishing outlet, use the Think Check Submit checklist for journals and checklist for books.

Look up specific titles in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB).

List of potential predatory publishers: