Skip to Main Content
Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Search Advice English Language and Literature: Find out more

Rules of thumb in using sources

  1. Peer review: controle door wetenschappersUse books written by scholars and scientists (is often mentioned in the book), preferably published by scientific publishers
  2. Choose journal articles from peer reviewed journals (is mentioned in the  journal) over those in non-peer reviewed journals.

If you use other sources, it is extra important to check the scholarly level yourself. Of course, your source needs to be meaningful and relevant, above all.

Generating search terms

Thinking up the right search terms is one of the major parts of your search strategy.

Go looking for corresponding terms for each part of your search question. Don't forget:

  • ​synonyms (house / dwelling)
  • broader terms (university / higher education)
  • narrower terms (children / toddlers)
  • related terms (training / coaching)
  • antonyms (terms with opposite meanings, such as parent/child or poverty/wealth
  • persons and organisations of importance to your subject
  • terms indicating space and time (for instance eras, centuries, names of places, countries)
  • avoid bias in your search terms, it might colour the outcome of your search

And also think of the different word forms:

  • singular/plural
  • verb conjugations
  • nouns/adjectives
  • different spelling (labor / labour or organisation / organization)
  • abbreviations
  • translations into languages which are relevant to your subject and discipline

Correct your search terms along the way. If you do so from the very start, you will soon see which (new) terms produce the right results, and which terms don't. Repeat this method as long as it takes.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Use resources:

  • words from an exploratory search from, for instance, Wikipedia or handbooks
  • words from earlier found sources, for instance words from the title or abstract or keywords given by the author
  • dictionaries
  • thesauri (overviews of selected words or concepts and their mutual relations within a particular field of interest or discipline, often included in large, subject specific databases)

Academic Writing

Searching for literature is not a goal in itself. Aside from looking for publications, you also want to make a scientific contribution yourself by writing a thesis or article. The LibGuide Schrijfwijzer voor Moderne Talen (in Dutch) and the Chicago Manual of Style are useful resources on academic writing.

Cartoon over schrijven

Search strategy: what, where, how?

Your search strategy defines what you search, where you search and how you perform your search. In the course of your search process you take many decisions that affect the quality of search results and the time needed to get those results.

The main decisions in your search strategy relate to:

  1. What: Think through in advance what information you really need: subject, type of information (analysis, news, statistics, opinion, overview etc.), level and recency. The exact terms you are going to use in your search are of crucial importance.
  2. Where: What you are looking for determines where you should go to find it: choose your databases carefully, there is not one search engine or database that has it all. The library gives access to search engines for each discipline.
  3. How: There are various methods of searching. The systematic/bibliographic method (using search terms in scholarly databases) and the snow ball method (finding new information related to what you already have) are the most important. The exact application of these methods depends on the options available in the database or search engine.

The special LibGuide search strategy has more on setting up successful search strategies.
See also the special  Libguide on Evaluating sources

Important search engines for English

  • Starting a new subject? Use an encyclopedia or Wikipedia  to find basic information and collect keywords.
  • Scholarly publications can be found using bibliographies, for instance the MLA and LLBA.
  • Primary texts, especially the older ones, can be found in text collections like EEBO, ECCO or with Google.

Or check the complete list of search engines on English language and culture.

MLA International Bibliography

The MLA International Bibliography contains descriptions of journal articles, essays and books in the fields of literature, language and linguistics.

You can perform a basic search or limit your results, for example, to 'publication year' and/or 'source type' or use 'similar results' to find results which are comparable to your original search term(s).

Not all titles are available in the University Library. Use the UBU link to check for availability.

nieuwe UBUlink MLA

Tip: Do you want to quickly search for publications that are most likely to be available via the University Library? Try limiting your results to journal articles and peer-reviewed publications. In comparison to books, journal articles and/or peer reviewed publications are more likely to be available via the University Library. 

Tip: The MLA also has many useful options for streamlining your workflow, such as exporting references to Refworks or correctly citing an article using a specific citation style.

Google Scholar: fast and with full text search

Google Scholar is a large search engine for scholarly publications. It searches primarily journal articles and, contrary to almost all other search engines, searches the full text. From Google Books the data of a large number of scientific books are included in Google Scholar. Also in this respect Google Scholar differs from classical scientific search engines such as Scopus or Web of Science.

Google Scholar's special features listed:

  • you search articles as well as (a selection of) books
  • your search is full text, so you will also find sources in which your search terms are only touched upon
  • Google Scholar does not tell you what publications are included and what publications are not: you will have to find out by trial and error
  • the journal selection is less strict than in Web of Science or Scopus: as a result you will also find non-peer reviewed material
  • the order of results is also based on the number of received citations: that is why more recent publications are harder to find; always use the menu to filter on recent years!
  • if you want to have links to Refworks you must choose this as your Bibliography Manager in the preferences
  • only if you access Google Scholar via the Utrecht University Library website you will be shown the UBUlink next to the titles

In the special Google Scholar LibGuide UBU LibGuide Google Scholar you will find all you want to know about successfully using this remarkable search engine

What is Open Access?

Open Access logo

Open Access means direct and free online access to scholarly research. 

Researchers publish their articles on their own web page or in a journal that is freely accessible to everyone.

Unfortunately, just a fraction of research in the Humanities is available as Open Access. For access to articles, you are often confined to the journals subscribed to by the library.

If there is a specific journal that we do not have access to but which you think would suit the library, you can send a request to your subject specialist.

Click here for more information on Open Access and Open Science at Utrecht University.

Books: limited availability

The English language and literature is studied worldwide, which means that the number of publications is high and continues to increase. Unfortunately, the library can only acquire a small portion of these publications, so you may fail to find a specific book or resource in the library. 

Matej Kren's 'Idiom', Book Tower in Prague Municipal Library

We try to provide as many resources as possible to our patrons. If you cannot find a book, journal, or other publication in our library, you can contact us for specific requests. For instance, when a book is essential for your master thesis, or you suspect that other students or researchers will also be interested.

When the book is available as an e-book, we can provide it to you very quickly.

A lot of journals

The number of journals available worldwide on the English language and literature is very high, with publications ranging from well-known peer reviewed journals to local magazines.

In the MLA International Bibliography you can search the contents of more than 400 journals on the English language and literature! This is a remarkable amount of information for a field which is mainly book-oriented.

The good news is that most quality journals in the field are available through the University Library.