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Workshop research and information skills GEO1-2208 (Innovation Systems): 2. Your search profile


Time estimate: 20 min.

  1. Go through the information on the right, especially that on generating search terms.
  2. In your group (or in couples) make a list of at least 15 search terms of various kinds related to the country your group is focusing on for the NIS prresentation. Refer to slide 22 of the lecture on how to do this systematically. Note that in your particular case you are not so much analysing the effect of A on B, but rather charting a number of elements of A (the innovation capacity of a country). You can see aspects of (specific) actors, institutions, networks and infrastructure as the 'narrower terms' of your one main element, which is the innovation system or innovation capacity. Labour mobility, joint industry activities, knowledge infrastructures, intellectual property legislation and many nmore aspects may be relevant. Refer to the the lectures and literaure already studied. Also note that many relevant sources will probably mention innovation and your chosen country without using the exact phrase "innovation capacity" or "innovation system". Right now you do not have to make a fully fledged search profile, only a structured list of search terms you could use. Make sure to revisit and add to that list as you proceed with your searches.
  3. Think in advance of what kinds of information your need and the publication types that information might be in. Based on that you can prioritise the actual search actions you will do (see the subpages of page 4 of this workshop guide).

Search profile: make explicit choices

When doing longer papers, reports or a thesis it is sensible to make an explicit search profile as part of your search strategy. A search profile details:

  • the central question
  • the main elements of your central question
  • delineation of your subject: period, area, theoretical approach
  • more formal limits: publication years, publication languages
  • the type of information you are looking for (analysis, overview, opinion, statistics etc.) and the type of publication in which you expect to find that information
  • search terms and alternative terms for each of the main elements in your research question: synonyms, broader terms, narrower terms etc.
  • your search methods: systematic/bibliographical, snowball/citation method or catalogue method
  • the databases and search engines to use (based on coverage, publication types your want to find and search method).

At least once try to write all these choices down to force yourself to make them explicit. During your search you can add things or eliminate them when they do not prove fruitful.

Exploring topics in innovation science

A first phase in searching is a short exploration of your subject. Ask yourself:

  • What do the words/terms in my subject mean exactly?
  • Where and when?
  • Might the subject be studied by scholars from other disciplines as well? If so, which?
  • Is the phenomenon/process part of something larger or more encompassing?
  • What aspects are there to the phenomenon/process?
  • What is clear/proven, what is still being studied and what is still terra incognita?

To answer these questions you can search some of these reference works:

Some crucial journals for innovation studies

Journals from many different disciplines might be relevant at some point in innovation science. The most important English language journals in the fields of R&D,  scientometrics, innovation policy and social and economic aspects of technology are below. Use the library journals listing to locate the journals.

  • Bulletin of science, technology and society
  • Comparative technology transfer and society
  • Creativity and innovation management
  • Economics of innovation and new technology
  • Energy policy
  • Entrepreneurship theory and practice
  • European planning studies
  • Environmental innovation and societal transitions
  • Futures
  • Innovation
  • Innovation and development
  • Journal of clear production
  • Journal of engineering and technology management
  • Journal of informetrics
  • Journal of product innovation management
  • Journal of technology management and innovation
  • Journal of technology transfer
  • Knowledge, technology, and policy
  • Nature
  • Outlook on science policy
  • Quantitative Science Studies
  • R and D management
  • Regional studies
  • Research policy
  • Research strategies
  • Research-technology management
  • Science and public policy
  • Science and technology studies
  • Science, technology and society
  • Scientometrics
  • Social studies of science
  • Structural change and economic dynamics
  • Technological forecasting
  • Technological forecasting and social change
  • Technology analysis and strategic management
  • Technology in society
  • Technovation

Publication types: each has its own role

Scholars use many different publication types, either passively (as source) or actively (as a means to distribute their research findings and studies). Active publication is done overwhelmingly in journal articles and books. Passively a much broader spectrum of publication types is used. A list of publication types and the types of information that they carry:

  • book (monography): theory, in depth study, contemplation, context, (historical) overviews
  • book (edited volume): case studies, testing of new theory
  • dissertation (monography or reprinted articles): result of extensive research, often with an exhaustive bibliography
  • journal article: primary research results, theory testing, analysis of specialised subjects, scholarly discussion
  • systematic review: meta-analysis of literature with evidence based insights
  • reference works (encyclopedias, subject dictionaries): facts, definitions and synopsis of accepted theory and description
  • handbooks: overview and interrelations of theories and important insights
  • reports: policy, policy evaluations, government research, objectives of organisations
  • newspapers, online news media: news, news analysis, opinion
  • blogs, social media: (discussion of) news, ideas, opinions
  • research data sets: source of raw data for replication of research
  • statistics publications/databases: primary data for quantitative empirical research
  • maps, atlases and geodata: source for spatial analyses

Generating search terms

The right search terms are the most important conditons for an effective search.

General tips:

  1. Think 'in terms of' the article to be found. What words are likely to be used in the article you hope to find?
  2. As a result of your findings, correct your search terms a few times in the initial phase of your search

Keep in mind the different kinds of terms:

  • synonyms
  • broader terms
  • narrower terms
  • related terms
  • antonyms
  • persons or organisations related to your subject
  • translation into languages relevant for subject and discipline
  • Think, for each of these categories, of the different forms (single, plural etc.) spelling variations and possible abbreviations/acronyms)

You don't have to think of terms all by yourself. Use the tools:

  • words from an introductory article in Wikipedia for instance
  • words from search result pages in search engines 
  • keywords from previously found sources (especially the so-called 'author keywords')
  • dictionaries, for translations and for looking up the meaning of words
  • thesauruses, for finding related terms that you may not have thought of (e.g. this general thesaurus for the English language)

In the special LibGuide page on formulating a search question you will find more information on how to generate search terms

Relevant years and languages


  • Only filter by year if you cannot think of any other more meaningful criterion to make your query more specific.


  • For innovation studies English is by far the most important langauge. Other languages may be important if you want to read reports on local (policy) contexts in a certain non English-speaking country. In certain sectors of manufacturing and technology German might be important.

What about Wikipedia?

In scholarly research, Wikipedia can be used for:

  • Initial exploration of a subject
  • Gaining ideas about search terms to be used
  • Finding out or checking facts, but please do a double-check
  • Literature references: often there are references to a small number of crucial publications
  • Source references: in the footnotes of many articles detailed source references can be found
  • As object of study: in what way is a subject written about in an influential reference work?
  • As quick translation tool, for words, but particularly for concepts for which mainstream (online) dictionaries offer no solution

Please bear in mind that the various language versions of Wikipedia may differ:  as a rule the larger versions (for instance the English version) is of a higher quality, because on average more people contribute to an article. Compare the article in the different language versions.

Another thing one can do is study the talk pages of an article. It shows the (low or high) level of discussion amongst editors. You can take that into account in your decision on how to use the information provided in the article.

Contrary to what is often thought, Wikipedia is a reference work with explicit rules, policy and control.

In the special LibGuide Wikipedia  more details, background information and examples of good Wikipedia-use.