Finding and Managing Information for Your Dissertation

These pages are aimed at helping you to find information to use as a basis for the introductory literature review for your dissertation, building a focussed background to the research topic you are studying from a range of primarily peer-reviewed sources.

The guide is divided into six sections:

  1. Where to find information for your dissertation – the range of academic databases
  2. General databases covering literature over many subjects
  3. Select Search Terms/Phrases & Building a Search Strategy
  4. Identifying and selecting relevant references for your dissertation.
  5. How to manage the references you have collected – Introduction to Reference Management strategies and software (e.g. EndNote Online)  
  6. How to format your references in your bibliography – Introduction to Citation Styles (e.g. Harvard, APA)

Put together, these sections build into an Information Search Continuum, a model of which is shown below:

Primary Sources

  • Peer-reviewed papers in academic journals
  • News updates from academic magazines and websites

Secondary Sources

  • Review papers in academic journals (peer-reviewed)
  • Book chapters summarising recent developments
  • References from bibliographic databases

Tertiary Sources

  • Manuals reviewing the whole of a topic from its beginning
  • Usually published as books/ebooks

Where to Find Information – Academic Databases

It is important to prepare a plan for how you will find references relevant to your dissertation - this is generally known as a 'search strategy'.

This strategy will be defined by your dissertation topic(s) and any specific limits which have been placed on it by your department/supervisor. Your interests may be limited to certain topics in your subject matter, by date, by geographical area, by a particular method of analysis, or by a particular viewpoint/aspect of the subject.

Some related topics may be included and some may be excluded. It is important to get these limits sorted and agreed by your supervisor in order for your search strategy to be correctly formulated. This is an iterative process and you may need to return for discussions with your supervisor several times before a final position is agreed.


It is important that you concentrate your searching on the peer-reviewed literature in your subject. For arts and humanities topics, edited chapters in scholarly research texts from reputable publishers will also be important. Remember also, however, that very recent developments (as covered by reputable national/international news channels) may not yet have reached the peer-reviewed literature. The inclusion of a few select recent news items from reputable sources will show that you have been keeping track of current developments in your dissertation subject.

Also remember that while the vast majority of recent peer-reviewed literature is now available online, many earlier papers in journals and books published before the mid-1990s will only be available in print. The year range of our AU e-journal subscriptions and their preceding print issues can be found on Primo.

Choosing Your Databases for Searching

The range of specialist databases which are available at AU can be found through either:

If you are researching a multi-disciplinary topic, you are recommended to start identifying your databases from Resources A-Z.

Our recommendation for dissertations is that you always use more than one database for retrieving references. Ideally, one general database and one more specific subject database will provide a good spread of relevant references.

While there may be overlap in the references found in different databases, all databases will contain some references which are unique as all have their particular focus and can vary in geographical coverage and date range.

As mentioned earlier, your selected references can be supplemented with items from reputable news sources and websites, particularly where your subject has public interest.

General Databases Covering Literature over Many Subjects

The following databases will retrieve references which are relevant across the spectrum of subject covered by university departments:


Primo Aber Collections

Contains records of all the books, e-books and reports available in Aberystwyth University libraries. The Primo Searching FAQs will help you to use all the various Primo facilities.

The Primo Virtual Browse feature will enable you to retrieve books on the same topic as the one your are currently viewing:

If there is a particular book which you need but it is not in the library, please request a copy for purchase through our More Books scheme. Purchases will be paid for by the library.

Primo Articles and More

All papers retrieved using the Primo Articles and More tab will have full-text access. Please remember to sign-in before running your search. If you are off campus, some articles may require VPN to be loaded on your computer to reach the full-text.

Search using the Primo Aber+ tab to include papers without full-text access. Details of building search strategies in Primo can be found in the Primo help pages.

Web of Science (Web of Knowledge)

Coverage of science, social science and arts/humanities topics, with science coverage going back to 1945, social sciences back to 1956 and arts/humanities back to 1975.

Ebsco Business Source Complete via EbscoHost

Indexes a wide range of journal articles, books, reports and magazines on a wide range of topics, centred on business/economics but spreading widely into both the science and arts.


Titles often available in complete runs (i.e. from the date of the first issue) in an archive often running up to 4-5 years before the current issues. Centred on arts/humanities titles.


The British Library's own database of journal/conference article based on their own holdings, containing over 20 million records. Full-text access dependent on AU subscriptions.

Gale Reference Complete

Full-text news database, featuring content from over 12,000 regional, national and global newspapers from 100 countries worldwide.

Google Scholar

Searches content from academic publishers, professional societies and pre-print archives from across the world on all topics. Order of display based on Google's own search ranking. Full-text access to papers dependent on AU subscriptions.

Aberystwyth Research Portal

Find articles written by Aberystwyth University lecturers and researchers.


Selecting Search Terms/Phrases and Building a Search Strategy

A sequence of steps which you can follow for selecting terms/phrases and building them into your search strategy is given below:

  1. Break down your dissertation topic into a small number of related concepts
  2. Identify terms and phrases related to each individual concept which you think may be useful search terms, Start with broad terms and then move towards more specific terms for each of the concept groups


  1. Run an initial search in a general database, combining the terms and phrases you have chosen for each concept. It is usually best to enter each group of terms in a separate search box if possible.
  2. Add more key terms to each of your groups, such as alternative terminology, synonyms, varied spellings, as you come across them in your initial search results
  3. Introduce truncation symbols (often *) to cover different endings for your terms in your search (e.g. to cover singular and plural forms)
  4. Enclose any phrases in your search term groups in quotes (e.g. “climate change”).


An example of a search strategy prepared using steps 1-6 above in the Web of Science database is shown below:

  1. Use filters offered by your database to cut down the number of results by date, language, method, geography etc.
  2. Filtering out the review papers can be very useful for getting a broad view of recent developments in your topic and also for finding more search terms.
  3. Output the references which you wish to save from this initial search either as an e-mail to yourself, as a saved file or download to a reference management package such as EndNote.


Repeat this procedure from steps 3-9 in a more specialist database, again adding any further useful terms which you find to the relevant group of concepts, until you are contented with the search. Use the same output method as used with the general database to output your results.

A clip demonstrating the first few sections of this strategy which was originally developed for nursing students can be found on the University of the West of England website.

Identifying and Selecting References for Your Dissertation

The diagram below shows the Evaluation Cycle which can be used as a general guide for determining which of the references you have retrieved may be suitable for including as a reference in your dissertation.

This evaluation cycle poses a sequence of questions by which you can test each particular paper to identify which references might be included and which might be discounted:

  1. WHO - Who wrote the article? Are there contact details available? Are they associated with a reputable institution? Is the paper in a peer-reviewed journal or otherwise quality controlled by editors? Look at the quality of the grammar and spelling. If you are looking at a website, is there an “About” section showing the aims of the organisation who produced the information.
  1. WHAT – What is the site or item about? What is its purpose? At what level is it written? What does the URL of the website tell me about it? Is it academic or commercial? Is the information given clear and concise.
  1. WHY – Why did the author(s) write the paper or article and publish it? Is the source biased or impartial? Is advertising clearly differentiated from content information? Why is this website or printed item useful for my research?
  1. WHEN – When was the paper written. Is it likely to be out of date? When was the website last updated? Look for indications that a website has been regularly updated and beware of websites that contain many broken links.
  1. HOW – What methodology was used for putting the material together? Is this the methodology in which you are interested? Are the sample sizes sufficient for a believable conclusions to be drawn. Are there sufficient numbers of replicates included in the design? Is there a statistical control group to which effects of any treatments can be compared? conclusions to be drawn. Are there sufficient numbers of replicates included in the design? Is there a statistical control group to which effects of any treatments can be compared?
  1. WHERE - Where does the information come from? Have you heard of it previously? If not, verify content from other sources. Look for fully cited sources of information. Where do the links given in a website refer to? Are these links reputable?

References which pass all these tests are likely to be highly relevant to the subject of your dissertation and will be candidates for keeping for future reference. When you have collected a first set of references, it is good to save them and take them to your supervisor for comment. Collecting references together should be an iterative process and your supervisor will be able to give you guidance on whether you need to broaden or narrow your search strategy to retrieve a good set of papers.
How to store and manage the references you have collected is the topic of the next section.

Note on Review Papers

When starting your search procedure, it is often useful to pick out a few "review articles" on your topic to read in detail as these will cite a large number of primary papers which may also be relevant to your specific study. Many databases have a specific filter to pick out the review papers from the references which your search has initially retrieved.

Obtaining and Reading the Full-text of the Papers You Have Retrieved

Many of the books and papers which you select for use in your dissertation will either be available in the AU libraries or be directly linkable online through our AU Library e-subscriptions. If neither print nor online versions of a book or paper are available through Primo, including where the article is hidden behind a paywall, please use the following alternative methods of supply:

National Library of Wales

Details of the holdings available for reference at the National Library of Wales can be found here.
Registration for visiting the National Library of Wales and viewing its materials is mandatory. Registration forms can be found in English and Welsh on the NLW website.

Aberystwyth University Library Document Supply Service

If the item(s) you require is held neither with the AU Libraries or at the national Library of Wales, please use the AU Document Supply service:
The first five items requested by Document Supply each year are provided free for undergraduates.

How to Format the References in Your Bibliography

With regard to the format of citing the references in your dissertation, there is an extremely wide range of different citation styles used around the world – some being more standard than others for different subjects.  Some of the major examples and the formats they use can be found in OWL writing lab and also in the Citation Machine

As you can see in the slide above from the Citation Machine, each of the main styles also has many different versions (e.g. by publisher, by specific journal).

The specific citation style you will need to use will be specified by your Department in your course or module handbook. You will likely have been using the same style for previous writing assignments. Always follow this style throughout the citations in your dissertation, being consistent regarding the use of capital letters, typeface and punctuation.

The following slide gives examples of the in-text and bibliography citations for the Harvard style, one example using a standard citation and one using a quote.
Specific versions of Harvard are used by some departments at AU.


Most citation styles follow the convention of ordering the elements of a citation by naming the authors first, then the title of the paper, followed by the details of where the paper appears, followed by a viewing date if you are citing a web resource.

What is included in the citations for books, articles, chapters etc will generally be the same in each citation style. What will change will be the author name styling, the numbers of authors included before using et al (to indicate and others), the punctuation and slight changes in ordering.  


AAAG Citation Style (Based on Harvard Style)

A series of examples for different types of references (journal article, book, e-book, book chapter, web resource) follows below for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (AAAG) citation style used by human geographers in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at AU. This style is a version of the Harvard citation style.


Note on Journal Naming Conventions

In the past, many styles introduced their own abbreviations for journal names, so as to save space in print books and articles. Nowadays, the various citation styles have abandoned this procedure with the advent of e-books and e-journals and you should always cite journal names in full.


Note on Author Naming Conventions

In describing authors, most citation styles follow the pattern of Family name first followed by Given name, meaning that the standard name order is inverted. Given names are usually represented by initial(s) only, followed by a full stop in most styles but not in others.

Remember also that there are different naming conventions around the world which need to be taken into account when citing e.g. Arabic names, Chinese names, Burmese names, Indian names. For example in Malaysian, names may be given followed by a patronym or fathers personal name. In Portugal, individuals have a given name, followed by a mother’s family name and then their father’s family name. Such differing national conventions will usually be represented correctly in the references which you find in databases and should be followed in your in-text citations and bibliography.

How to Manage the References You Have Collected

It is very useful to be able to systematically collect the references you have selected for your dissertation so that they are all in one place and can be selectively retrieved for use when writing your review.

Strategies can vary from:

  1. Using very simple procedures such as using your Primo E-Shelf.  This can be suitable strategy if you are working with a very small number of references (e.g. <25) on a topic where the literature is sparse.
  2. Taking advantage of more developed strategies such as using the Citation and Bibliographies in Word feature.  This can be suitable where you have collected a reasonable number of references but not a massive number (e.g. 25-75 references).
  3. Utilising full-scale Reference Management software such as EndNote.  This is most suitable when you mare working with a very large number of references (e.g. 100+).

The university's general guidance on Reference Management can be found on our Information Skills web pages.


Primo E-Shelf

Guidance on storing references using the Primo E-Shelf can be found here.


Creating Citation and Bibliographies in Word

General guidance on using Word to write a dissertation can be found in our FAQs.

Specific guidance on using the Citations and Bibliography features in Word are also available.


Reference Management Software

There are many software programmes and systems for helping you to organise your references and insert them into your papers and dissertations.

The reference management software supported for management and storage of references and creation of bibliographies at Aberystwyth University is EndNote, covering both the more advanced EndNote Desktop version and the free EndNote Online version.

When writing your dissertation in Word, interacting with EndNote will give you all the options necessary for insert in-text citations and building your bibliography at the same time. As you insert citations from EndNote within the text, the Bibliography will automatically start to appear in the referencing style you have chosen, and in the correct order for that style.

Always remember to produce citations and bibliographies consistent with the style guidelines provided by your department.

Aberystwyth University has specific help pages for EndNote Online, including links to video help.

EndNote Desktop is loaded on all public workstations in AU computer rooms, and is available for purchase on personal computers.

Find Specific help for EndNote Desktop here. There are also help pages for the Desktop version on the EndNote website.


Why Use Referencing Software?

Some of the ways in which using reference management software such as EndNote are given in the diagram below:


Both EndNote Desktop and EndNote Online versions enable you to collect, organise and manage your references. You can sync your EndNote library across desktop, online and i-pad which means you can access your references anywhere. EndNote can enable a wide range of citation styles when outputting and can be integrated with most of the large external databases such as Web of science for importing references.

To start EndNote X7 in an Aberystwyth University computer room: Click on Start > All Programs > Word Processing > EndNote X7.

To access EndNote Online on the web, you can either register through the Web of Science database or directly via EndNote Online. Please note that registering through Web of Science will give you access to more database for importing references and to more styles for outputting references.

When writing in Word, the EndNote toolbar appears as follows:


N.B. General Aberystwyth University guidance about using Word for writing dissertations, such as style guides, templates and master documents can be found at: