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Skills at Library Essentials

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Keep track of your search

Why keep track?

It's important to keep track of where you've searched, what you searched for and what you found. The detail of record you will need will vary on the size of your project and your subject area*.

This information can be useful for a number of reasons. For example, it will help you to keep track of what's working and what isn't, making it easier for you to refine your search strategy. It's also useful if you will be staggering your searches; it's easier to pick up where you left off if you have a record of what you did previously. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keeping a good record of what you find and the necessary details will help you to create full and correct references at the end of your assignment. 

How to keep track

How you keep track and what information you record is up to you. Again this will depend on the size and type of project you are working on and your subject area, but here are a few options, from least to most sophisticated: 

Search record document

You can simply create your own document in which to record your searches. Below is an example of an extract from a basic search record:

Date Database Search # Results Comments
3 Jan JSTOR "fake news" AND elections 126 Narrow it down?

"fake news" AND elections AND "social media"

84 Add in synonyms?

You can adjust it to your needs. It would also be advisable to use this document to keep a record of the information you will need to reference any resources you want to use in your final assignment. 

Saving searches within databases

Many databases will allow you to save your search history. This will, as above, usually keep track of when you searched, what for and how many results you got. 

To save your searches you may have to set up an account within the database.

You can also use these saved searches to set up alerts so you will be notified if anything new is added to the database which would match your search criteria. This is a good way of keeping up to date with a topic. 

Reference management software

There are a number of reference management software packages available. What they essentially do is allow you to electronically save references for sources you find while searching. The software will then generate your references and bibliography in a word processor. You can also use this software to organise your search results, for example into folders, and some software allows you to also attach PDFs as well as the reference information.

To find out more about the options available, check out our referencing page. 

*Students in the sciences, particularly any healthcare-related subjects, will need to keep more detailed search records. More information about this can be found in the Search Skills section of the Health and Social Care Subject Guide.