Finding scientific information: Start of information search

Planning information search

Finding and using information is a process during which you establish, as widely and profoundly as possible, what has been written or what research has been carried out on your topic earlier. Finding information begins with getting a grasp of the subject, since you must have some idea on what topic and what kind of information you want to find. For example, do you need articles, statistics or official publications? Naturally, the information you need defines what information sources will be used. Familiarizing yourself with the concepts and terminology used in the field of your research is also a very important phase in the process of information search.

Establishing at an early stage what kind of information is needed speeds up and makes the whole process easier. Once you have clarified the type of of information needed, and how and where that information can be obtained, a more precise planning of the information search can begin.

Initial search

The initial search is where you commence with getting to know unfamiliar subject matter. Newspapers, magazines, television, internet, discussion groups, encyclopedias, Google, Wikipedia etc. can be used here as information sources. They help you to get preliminary ideas about the subject you will be working on. These sources can be useful when trying to find search terms for database searches.

It is a good idea to run these preliminary information searches in several databases. In some database collections, such as Ebsco and ProQuest, you can search in multiple databases at the same time. This is a good way to start your information search if you don't know which individual databases would provide you with the best material. Finding the databases best suitable for your information needs might require trying out and testing a few different databases. By looking at the search results you can see from which points of view the topic has been researched.



An example of an initial search.

  • Your goal is to search information on the effects plastic waste has on the oceans.
  • First, you decide to try a search in Google.














Image source: 13.11.2018






  • You look into the first articles in the list of results.
  • You expand your search to the more general topic of environmental effects of plastic waste.
  • You want scientific information on the topic.
  • You pick out search terms in the articles.











Image source: 13.11.2018






  • You can collect references from scientific articles in Google Scholar.
  • The articles deal with the subject from several different points of view.
  • The terms used in the articles (e.g. ocean, environment) can be used later in the actual search.





Image source: 14.6.2018





Next, you conduct a search in the multidisciplinary database Web of Science with the search phrase ("plastic waste*" OR "plastic litter*") AND (environment* OR ocean*).


Image source: 13.6.2018


Tools for analyzing

Tools for analyzing


Mind maps and concept maps

In order to carry out a search, it is important to analyze your topic and divide it into concepts. You can use a mind map or a concept map to help you do this. With their help you can clarify to yourself the overall view of the topic and potentially find search terms for future searches. 

You can collect concepts, ideas or points of view related to you topic in mind maps or concept maps. A concept map also depicts the relationships between keywords and concepts: what are their causal connections and what is their hierarchy.

There are a great many tools, either free or liable to charges, available for creating mind maps and concept maps, e.g. Coggle, Popplet and Mindmeister.


Mind map on concepts related to the environmental impact assessment of plastic waste. The mind map has been made with a free Popplet Tool 18.7.2018.