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  • Mae Lim

Getting a Handle on Literature Searches – Notes from an Instructional Librarian

One of the most time-consuming parts of writing a graduate-level research paper or thesis is the literature review. Before even starting to read and synthesise all the relevant published research, students have to embark on the long, uncertainty-inducing journey of finding the said papers first.

A common question that Masters’ level students ask me is this: “How do I know that I have found all the research that I should?” Another variation of the question is: “How much is enough?”

I guess lurking beneath the questions is the fear that they may have missed out on some swathes of relevant studies.

At the start of the semester in January, the library conducted literature search workshops for Masters’ programme students aimed at giving them a head-start on the process. These workshops are typically conducted as part of their classes in the evenings, covering topics such as the various platforms, tools, resources that students can use to conduct literature searches and bibliographic management.

Besides in-class sessions, the Library also offers literature search workshops via the GRAD Centre. One such workshop organised was conducted on 31 January 2019. This was open for registration by all Higher Degree students.

Many attend the workshops hoping to verify that they have covered all bases. Happily, some were assured after attending a workshop. Others tell me that they have a learnt a thing or two that they didn’t previously know, and will try them out.

Besides beginning researchers, the other group of Masters’ level students who attend the workshops are working professionals who have completed their undergraduate studies some time ago (for some, it was at least 10 years ago). For this group, the variety of systems and tools that are now available may seem confusing and a little overwhelming.

Library Workshops

Open library workshops are also available. Students can also register for any open sessions on the Library Portal.

For students who cannot make it for any open sessions, groups sessions are available upon request. All they have to do is to email their requests to us. Usually, both open and group sessions are conducted on late afternoons before the start of evening classes at 6 pm.

Evening Sessions

Librarians are invited by lecturers to conduct workshops during the evening classes so that part-time students can be supported.

Literature Searches – the Library's Role

One of the most useful understandings that students can have when embarking on a literature review is that the library with its resources and services can be a valuable part of the process.

Students should understand the extent of the library’s resources (and that often includes paid resources such as journal subscriptions which would otherwise be unavailable). The institutional library also provides students with access to published works in the field, with the possibility having them recommend publications for the library to purchase. Apart from that, library services such as document delivery would extend the access to full-text documents without student having to pay to access.


Mae is an instructional librarian whose job is to design and deliver learning content and programmes for NIE students and staff.

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