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A guide for Higher degree and Early career researchers

This guide provides information about the services and support available for ACU Higher Degree and Early Career researchers at all stages of the research life cycle.

Review the research literature

All research, whatever the discipline, needs to be situated in relation to what has already been done in the field. So the first step in any project is "research about research". This might mean:

  • finding out what is already known about a topic, in order to locate gaps and justify the research being undertaken
  • locating the work of important theorists whose ideas will inform the research
  • identifying useful methodologies, methods and documentary sources
  • locating and evaluating all the empirical studies, published and unpublished, that are relevant to the research questions 

Developing a search strategy

Once you understand what the question is asking and the meanings of the terms used, you can start to structure a search strategy:

e.g. "Discuss the current use of mobile devices in learning in Australian universities"

Identify the main keywords: Break the topic or question into 2-4 main keywords or concepts, e.g.

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

Concept 4

Mobile devices




Also keep in mind the question asks for "current" information - how old is current? (Usually no older than five years, but check with your lecturer).

It is important to consider synonyms, variant forms of spelling, variations of words/terms and allow for singular/plural versions of words when developing your strategy - as there is usually more than one way to express an idea. You may find it helpful to use a thesaurus to help identify alternative words.

Concept 1 mobile devices mobile phones iphones smart phones ipads tablets    

Concept 2 learning education study     

Concept 3 universities colleges higher education tertiary institutions

Concept 4 australia australian australia's australasian

Current information

To "truncate" terms to allow for variant word endings, and to apply a date range, see the Truncation section of this guide.

Now that the keywords are sorted into concept groups, we have thought of synonyms, and have allowed for variant forms of spelling, we need to link the concept groups together in a way that a database will recognise.

Most databases use what are called "Boolean Operators", or "connectors" , to join Keywords together.  

You can combine search terms using a number of connectors, but the two most common ways of linking terms are by using the "AND" and "OR" connectors.

The use of Boolean operators,can help you adjust the scope of your search - by either limiting or broadening  your search results.

Explore the literature

What are the key journals in my area?

Citation Searching

It is important to keep up to date with who is researching and being cited in your area of interest. Cited reference searching allows you to find articles that have cited a previously published author or work. This search technique can be done forward or backward in time.

Forward citation searching retrieves records that have cited an item, also known as “cited by”. This provides you with more recently published articles that may be relevant for your topic. 

Backward citation searching involves records that an item has cited (these will be located in the article's reference list) and using known relevant articles to identify other key articles or search terms.

The main citation databases are ScopusWeb of Science and Google Scholar

You may also find cited reference searching functionality in the following databases:

Finding theses