Introduction to literature search

1. Where to search for literature?

Before selecting your topic

Essays in physiology usually mean an exciting discovery for students in fields which are not yet dealt with in standard manuals. In many cases they require extensive search of literature, good command of languages, and enjoyable cooperation.
The topic for a thesis or a study for the Scientific Students’ Conference should also be one in which you are interested, which you like, thus which means an exciting challenge for you. While you will have to find something new for the physiology essays, when preparing a thesis, etc. you must have a complete review of the literature, history and state-of-the-art of the topic.
Already before selecting your topic it is worth to find out how difficult the topic is for you or your group. For some topics, there is very little literary background, ready knowledge: these require a lot of searching, making synthesis, and more “inventiveness” on behalf of the author. Other topics may be more laboursome, since there is a lot of material which has to be read, and systhematized.
Start your work in the library!

First browse among books! You find them grouped according to subjects. The literature, manuals of the last 10-15 years you may find in the reading room. Older material may be searched in the online and the card catalogue. 80% of our material can be found in the stacks, and is searchable through our catalogue.

The Internet also offers a good possibility for checking if the topic is mentioned at all. Visit the library homepage which leads you to the collection of databases, and to the list of journals subscribed by the library. Click on the database links and “test” the databases by writing one or two terms.

After you have selected the topic

After you have selected the topic, you should by all means start your search with bibliographic databases.
You may ask: why not on the Internet, as you have already found a lot of websites dealing with the topic?
The Internet is really an almost infinite store of knowledge, and even some of our bibliographic databases also come through the world wide web. Why are bibliographic databases still superior?
  1. Internet documents, the content and reliability of web pages are NOT CONTROLLED BY ANYONE! They might be useful for gaining information, but they are not sufficient for drawing scientific conclusions. Meanwhile, databases contain books, journal articles, conference materials, patents, reports, institutions’ publications, etc. which are assessed, corrected (peer reviewed) by experts and editorial boards. This means that these documents are likely to contain professionally correct material.
  2. The several billion web pages “covered” and searched by popular search engines only cover the so-called surface web and usually this does not include professional databases, journals, etc. which belong to the invisible or deep web.
  3. The search results of search engines are also ambiguous: their coverage of the sources on the Internet is not clear. It depends on the search engines how they order the thousands of hits (and it is not sure that the best ones will be among the first ones). The content of the bibliographic databases may be defined more clearly: we know which documents from which period are included. We may hope, that a good, targeted search will really retrieve the best publications.
We do not have to forget the vast array of Internet resources altogether, however – knowing the above – we have to be critical in the assessment of homepages.
The databases enumerated on the library’s homepage are not all equally useful when searching for a topic. We have to select the proper database.
Our criteria may be:
  • what subject fields, disciplines are covered?
  • what kind of documents are covered?
  • what period of time is covered?
  • does it lead to the full text of documents (or at least some of them)?
  • is it possible to search the database from home or only from the library (campus)?
All these questions are answered in the list of special (veterinary, medical, agricultural, biology) and general databases. The latter are usually interdisciplinary databases which are interesting for us only partly.
For the purposes of physiology essays usually the CAB Abstracts, PubMed, Biological Abstracts, Zoological Record, Web of Science and the Science Direct databases offer the greatest help. Only PubMed is accessible from anywhere.

2. How to search for literature?

If we try to find some information either in a database, or by a search engine on the Internet, we have to be aware of the rules of searching which may be slightly different from database to database, from search engine to search engine, from interfact to interfact. The aim of search programmes is to ensure that the search results satisfy our needs. In order to achieve this the programmes handling databases:

  1. enhance the selection of proper search terms by (indexes, thesauri),
  2. make it possible to search for term fragments as well,
  3. make it possible to combine search terms by (logical -Boolean- and proximity) operators,
  4. make the limitation of the hits possible (for language, period, etc.),
  5. make it possible to “export” (save, print, e-mail) the results (hits).

Most of the Internet search engines are also capable of most of the above functions. However, the standardization of the search terms is not possible, and as a matter of fact, hits may not be saved in the same way.

The following table summarizes how the suggested databases function and what symbols are used in them.

Database Truncation/
AND OR NOT Proximity Limits Help
CAB Abstracts ?


AND OR NOT N5 like near
W8 like within
for any
 EbscoHost User Guide
PubMed */? AND OR NOT “” Limits
(language, time,
animal, etc.)
PubMed Basics
Web of Science ?,$ AND OR NOT “”, same Refine… WOS
Science Direct *,? AND OR NOT “”,”
W/nn, PRE
type of doc,
SD Help
Library catalogue * AND OR NOT “” fields+conditions Help
Google automatic space OR NOT “” Speciális
Advanced Search Tips

Advanced Search tips

It is possible to save (Export, Save, Download, Send to file) the results (hit sets), as well as to print or e-mail them quite simply. Do not forget the records you need and set which data (fields) you need!

Note: In order to find documents you always need the author, title, and the year of the publication in the case of books, and in the case of journal articles the data of the journal (title, year, volume, issue, pages) which may be found in the Source field.

It is also possible to improve the effectiveness of Internet search. Do not forget about critical approach!

3. How to acquire original documents?

From the library, of course!
The Veterinary Science Library has the most important books and journals in veterinary science from all over the world. Besides, we can acquire any document from other Hungarian or foreign libraries.
  1. The books and journals in the library’s collection may be searched in the catalogue of the library or on the homepage (CD ROMs, current journals). It is possible to make copies of these items.
  2. It is possible to access electronic journals offering the full text of the articles from the list of current journals.
  3. You may also find several services offering access to full text journals such as (Science Direct, Ebsco, Springer).
  4. It is possible to find any foreign periodical in Hungarian libraries through the National Periodical Database. You may visit other libraries in Budapest to get the articles quickly. It is also possible to order them via interlibrary lending, which normally takes a few days. It costs 300 HUF for an article from another Hungarian library. Books may also be borrowed by interlibrary lending.
  5. Finally there are documents that are only available abroad. The price of these documents as well as the delivery time is very changable. It is possible that our partner sends the article in electronic format within a few days for a fair price, but the average price of an article is 2-3000 HUF, and borrowing a book may cost 4-5000 HUF (postal costs!).

You have to consider all these before ordering a document. Ask the help of librarians!

4. How to cite the literature used?

The identification of your source is the most important. You have to cite the sources because of the requirements of copy right, and the ethical requirement to make it clear which thoughts come from other authors, and which are yours in your paper. (Of course, you have to make correct citations also because your tutor has an overview of the literature as well.)

You may use another study usually in one of two ways:
  1. If you take a thought, a chain of thoughts from a study, refer to it, but do not quote it word by word, but write about it in your own words, then you have to cite the whole work. There is no need for using the quotation (” “) marks.
  2. If you take something word by word (exact quotation) (such as a characteristic term, sentences, tables, figures, images) than you have to give the source of the quotation exactly (with exact page numbers!). As a matter of fact, the quote must be put into inverted comas (” “)!
Practical advice to the compilation of your list of references (bibliography):
  • References may be put at the bottom of pages into footnotes, or at the end of the paper.
  • There are two ways of connecting the text with the references:You have to cite Internet sources as well! The necessary data (if you can find out): author, title, publishing organisation, URL (http…), the document’s date of publication on the Internet/date of amendment/date of reading.
    • put the name of the author and the year of publication into brackets after the quotation or hint (e.g. Abc, 2000), in which case the list of references will be ordered alphabetically according to author names,
    • continuous numbering ((1) or 1 (in upper index)), in which case the list will contain references ordered numerically.
  • The most important requirement with regard to the list of references is identification and consistency. The necessary data and the punctuation suggested may be found in the guide to thesis writing.