Final thesis or term paper write: Literature search

Overview of possibilities of literature research for scientific papers (Bachelor theses, Master theses etc.)

A reasonable literature search is after the topic finding the A for your scientific thesis (which is the O, read below). Therefore, you can only give a very rough overview of the art of researching scientific literature here. As with all other arts, the more experience you have, the better.

At the beginning, you will gain a great deal of overview literature, and more and more specialized monographs and essays. It is important that you already have a question in mind; the more your structure develops, the more precise the questions, the more specific the literature. In order to research relevant literature for your diploma thesis or bachelor thesis, you have various tools at your disposal.

The most important of these is your mind. Learn to filter the important from the unimportant. In the section on reading techniques you will learn more about the possibilities that you have to get a first impression of the relevance of, for example, a monograph for your topic.

You will search for different types of literature. The secondary literature reflects current or older research status of your topic. Sources are the most important kind of literature, at least in the humanities. Many master’s theses revolve around sources. Place a high value on sources and source work. It’s nice to read what a hundred others have to say about a source. Ultimately, it depends on what you think and say about this source. Do you have something to say that others have not yet said?

Also important for you are Internet sources and Internet secondary literature. Many articles you will find only on the Internet, even one or the other source. The Internet should not be underestimated for your literature research. The Internet offers you a snowball system par excellence. You will find not only a wealth of references in the WWW, but also important research tools such as the OPACs of the university libraries. On the Internet, your research skills are even more in demand than before. Search engines make the network visible only to a very small extent. Below the surface, in the depths of the WWW sea, it is dark. Make the relevant visible with the help of your mental flashlight.

What is relevant literature? Literature is like websites: it is the more relevant the more other publications refer to it. That says nothing about the quality, you have to judge for yourself then of course. But if ten different monographs on your topic refer to the one essay on the notion of happiness in Epicurus, he must have some relevance to the subject. Examine this. Ask why others consider this essay so important.

The high number of links in a document, whether online or offline, is only one type of relevance. Another question that you need to answer: how relevant is the document for me, for my diploma thesis, my dissertation, my book? Relevance is thus first created by context.

Tip: Explain in detail the terms research and relevance.

Snowballing. Let chance decide

As already mentioned, the Internet is a perfect starting point for the Ponzi scheme. Once you start reading about a topic, you can click the infinite down the links through the depths of the WWW. Attention: Do not lose the red thread. Not every link has to follow. Develop filtering mechanisms to separate the important from the unimportant – that can not be repeated often enough.

What you can do online, you can also operate offline. Take the most general book on the subject of your choice and follow the references. On many topics there are also special bibliographies in which the most important literature on the topic is listed neatly sorted. And also applies offline: limit yourself to a little, but very relevant literature. Limit the range of secondary literature to the sources. Of course, in order to take into account the state of research, you must know many or all relevant secondary documents; but you do not have to justify each of your opinions and theses with strange ideas.

Internet sources

In order to research Internet sources, you will often use Google. Learn to use Google. You can customize Google to show you 100 search results for each topic. Not all will be relevant – here too: filter quickly and efficiently (see also the section on reading techniques). Of course you have a question before you search. You do not need to enter the full question on Google. Understand how Google is ticking. Search for keywords. If you are looking for resources that deal with Napoleon, do not google “what role did Napoleon play in German unity?” But “Napoleon Nation States” or “Napoleon German Unity”.

Attached is an overview of tricks you can use to improve your search results.

Attention! Google is not the only search engine. Google only searches the so-called Surface Web, an estimated 10% of all websites, probably even less. Even all search engines together only find a fraction of the documents on the Web.

Another option besides Google & Co. are editorially maintained link lists. You can often find them on the websites of relevant institutes on the topic or on topic portals. Also on Internet forums on the topic you often come. The link lists of the university institutes often do not look very good. Sometimes they also contain outdated, broken links. Many scientists do not really care about their design, because what use is the best content when it is difficult to access it?

Also important are source collections on the Internet. Very few are citable, but they will help you if you do not have the literature at hand. Example of source collections:,

Learn to filter. Learn to filter. Many results are irrelevant for your work in itself. But they will take you to other relevant facts, literature and questions. Few of the Internet sources will quote you (more on citing Internet sources below).

Do not put too much value on the volatile internet. Avoid quoting from Internet documents. Just use it as a great way to research quickly, approaching a topic in the first few steps.

Monographs, anthologies etc.

A monograph is an independent work of one or more authors that deals with a particular, limited topic as comprehensively as possible. In anthologies you will find several texts, essays by different authors on a topic.

Monographs and anthologies are also perfect for the snowball system. You will surely research countless corresponding volumes for your topic. Not everyone needs you, not everyone has to read it completely. Often a single essay, sometimes only a single chapter, will suffice for you, and now and again only the bibliography of a book.

Often you research monographs and anthologies first over the Internet. The OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs) are now quite complete and do not offer usability deluxe, but they serve their purpose. Visit the website of your local library and explore the options available to you for literature research. Under you find z. B. the OPAC HU Berlin. There are several search options available: a simple search, an advanced search, an expert search and a systematic search. With this online catalog, you can not only get an overview of relevant literature on your topic, but also search specifically for specific titles that are available in the University Library of HU Berlin.

Some titles you will not find on the shelves, they must be ordered from magazines.

Tip: Before you start writing and researching, explore the possibilities your local libraries offer you. Familiarize yourself with the systematics, with the sub-libraries of adjacent departments, with the magazine order, with the copier system.

If a title is not available in your local university library, you can also research and interlibrary loan catalogs (eg Karlsruhe Virtual Catalog), which make the inventory of several libraries simultaneously searchable. Familiarize yourself with it.

Remember, you have to be better than Google. 10% of the relevant documents are insufficient. You have to make 100% visible. Step out of your information blindness.

An interesting way of literature research also offers Worldcat. Wordcat is a meta-catalog that searches the library catalogs of thousands of libraries worldwide. Familiarize yourself not only with the catalogs of your regional libraries, but also with the large meta catalogs.

You will often find what you are looking for in special offline bibliographies or review bodies for your department. You should know exactly which of these works are suitable for your work; if necessary, ask your lecturer or professor if you do not have an overview of these options. Just reviewers provide a great way to quickly judge literature according to your relevance.

By the way, another way to search the literature is to use the paper boxes in your library. Since these have now been largely electronically recorded, it will not be discussed in more detail here.

Magazines and journal articles

You can usually search journals through the OPACs, but journal articles rarely. For the latter, there are special catalogs, such. B. the electronic journals library. Many of these catalogs are only available through the library intranet. You can also order complete magazine articles via the document delivery service subito. Many journal articles are now even accessible online. You can also get documents from the German National Library.

For most departments, there are also extensive bibliographies in the form of conventional books, which you can use for research. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these publications before you start working on your thesis or bachelor thesis.

Incidentally, Google Scholar should not go unnoticed, with which databases of scientific work can be sifted through.

Newspaper article

To research newspaper articles, you can use the archives of individual newspapers, some of which are online. Some are chargeable (FAZ archive), others are not (ZEIT archive).

Buy used books

The most important literature, especially the sources, should always be available in your own bookshelf. For those who can not or will not afford new books, there are many ways to get used literature. In addition, many older books are often simply prettier than freshly printed reprints. Researching used books is also worthwhile for a total spend that can be earned so often for a fraction of the money that would have to be paid for a new edition.

Offline, of course, is the opportunity to rummage through booksellers in antique shops. However, many antique shops today are also online and represented in larger directories. One of the largest of these directories is the ZVAB – Central Directory of Antiquarian Books. Another such directory is Abebooks, available online at

Even in the Amazon, books not only buy used, but also sell; Amazon is a modern antiquarian bookshop, which means that you can often buy very new literature much cheaper. Tip: You can quickly and easily resell literature that you no longer need via Amazon.

Note: The subject of research can only be mentioned here, although research is one of the most important tools not only of the scientist. Be very involved in researching materials that may be of use to your scientific work that are relevant.