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Where should you search?

Where do you find your sources? It might be tricky to know where to start when you are searching for sources for a completely new topic.

Start with making an inspiration search (check out different types of literature searches) to get a quick overview of the topic you want to examine, for example when designing your research question. Once you have an overview of your topic, it is a good idea to figure out which types of sources you need. 

Which sources do you need?

To figure out where to find the right sources, it is usually a good idea to figure out which types of sources you need. The types of source you need depend on your need for information, which in turn depends on the type of paper you are working on. University papers are built around sources that you use, read and deal with in your study. Different types of sources are suited for different types of information needs. 

  • Books supply you with structure, research history and broad coverage, and deal with topics in their context

  • Journal articles usually focus on narrow research questions, are more detailed, and contain the newest findings
  • Review articles gather the newest information within a field of study (“overview”, “critical review”, or “review article”)
  • Works of reference can be used for definitions or the clarification of concepts, and can give a general overview
  • Newspaper articles treat relevant topics, and reviews can provide new approaches to a source
  • Websites reproduce facts about organizations for example and provide you with relevant information, analyses etc.
  • Statistics, laws and pictures are the humanities new sources/empiricism. 


How do you create an overview?

It is an advantage to start by getting an overview of the topic by checking the web or works of reference to learn about technical terms, keywords, and the types of sources which are relevant for your study.

Once you know more precisely what you are looking for, you can proceed to textbooks, articles and specific books that deal with the subject. The library and electronic databases may be a good place to start looking.

Your point of departure could be the resources and materials that the library at Aarhus University has made available to you.

In the preliminary search phase, it is not always necessary to read all the sources that might be used in your paper. Instead, you can:

It may be a good idea to note the main points and keywords for each source to find out whether the source is relevant for your paper later.

Keep yourself informed online

Keep yourself informed about your topic online

Once you start your search, online resources may be a good place to start. It’s a good idea to use the best-known online search engines to create an overview of your topic. This can provide you with an idea of the amount of literature, keywords, types of sources etc. which can help your literature search. In the overview, you can find recommendations for search engines that you can use in your search, and what you should be aware of when you use them. 


What is a google search useful for? Creating a quick overview (of relevant players and fields of tension within the subject).

What should you be aware of? The search results have not been evaluated and/or sorted, so the best way of using the results is by way of inspiration for further literature searches.

Alternatives: Search for your topic in AU Library’s database or at bibliotek.dk

2. Google Scholar

What is Google Scholar useful for? Creating an overall view of the field of research and continuing to search through citations

What should you be aware of? Google Scholar does not contain everything but retrieves information from different databases, so it not completely satisfactory when trying to examine a topic. 

Alternatives: Search the relevant databases which have been made available to you through AU Library. Or: Access the subject guide for your field of study

3. Wikipedia

What is Wikipedia useful for? Gaining insight into terms and reading the wording of relevant issues about a topic. Finding obvious references on the topic.

 What should you be aware of? The sources that are used. Wikipedia has been written by many different users and is generally not viewed as an acceptable source. Always check this with your supervisor.

Alternatives: Academic works of reference that you can access through AU Library

4. TED-talks

What are TED TALKS useful for? Seeing and listening to authors and researchers talking about their own writing in a short and concise manner.

What should you be aware of? The videos are recordings of presentations and are often impossible to use as a scientific or scholarly source.

Alternatives: Search for the publication list of the researcher or the author and then search for the literature directly at AU Library

5. YouTube

What is YouTube useful for? Seeing and listening to new angles about your topic and gaining inspiration.

What should you be aware of? Sources. YouTube is used by many different users – researchers, companies and other interested parties all upload videos.

Alternatives: Search through the collection of Master’s theses for your field of study. 

Alternatives to the five above-mentioned options:

Search in the right places

A literature search online can give access to many different sources

If you have an overview of your topic and field of study, it’s a good idea to search for literature online. You can use many of the different resources that you can find in the subject guide of your topic.

Here is a list of the types of resources that you can find in the subject guide.




To search the content of large numbers of new textbooks.    

E-book collection    

Ebook Central and Palgrave Connect

To search the content of journal articles in many subject areas.    

Article collections

JSTOR (does not contain articles that have been published within the last five years) and Research Library    

To find specialised knowledge, documents, statistics etc.    

Full text archives

Danmarkshistorien.dk and Literature Online

To find newspaper articles in full length.     

Newspaper databases

Infomedia and Factiva

Definitions and clarifications of concepts.     


Ordbogen.com and Oxford English Dictionary

To get an overview about a topic or field of research.    

Works of reference and encyclopaedias

International Encyclopedia of Communication     


To find articles and other scientific contributions within your field of research.    

Bibliographical databases

Historical Abstracts (contains texts about world history – except the US and Canada), and MLA International Bibliography (primarily contains text about literature and languages)


Works of reference and guides

Works of reference and guides supply you with an overview and a structure

Works of reference and guides are authoritative sources which have been composed by the very best people within a field of study.

Encyclopaedias, manuals and dictionaries contain short summaries about your topic. They give you the chance to gain a quick overview of your research area, specific topics and terms.

Use the library’s subject guides to find relevant guides and works of reference for your topic

What are the benefits of using works of reference and guides?

Guides are valuable tools in any phase of your writing process – for many different reasons.

  • The authors of the articles have been chosen especially. Only the best people within a field of research are asked to contribute
  • They give you a concentrated overview of a topic and often references to outlines of similar literature
  • They give you insight into the terminology of the topic and therefore ideas for good search words in your ongoing search for literature
  • Each article normally ends with a short and precise bibliography of core texts

Types of works of reference and handbooks.   

  • Bibliographical encyclopaedias: If your field of research is history or takes its point of departure in a historical person, you can look this person up in a bibliographical encyclopaedia.
  • Etymological dictionaries: If you are interested in the “actual” definition of a word, you can use an etymological dictionary of the language in question.
  • Specialised works of reference: There is usually at least one specialised encyclopaedia in each research area. And often there are many.


In databases you can find scientific sources which you would not normally find using common search engines.

A database is a collection of scholarly sources and resources such as articles, journal articles and dictionaries. Databases require a login and have their own search functions, so you cannot find these sources using common search engines such as Google Scholar and AU Library’s search engine.

So when you search for sources for your academic papers, it may be a good idea to use databases in combination with regular search engines in order to find as many relevant sources as possible

If you are looking for information and literature that has been published within the last 50 years, databases are a natural place to start. Information predating this timeframe would have to be found in printed bibliographies and printed collections. Contact your library for help and guidance.  

Where do you find databases – and which ones should you choose?

When you want to access databases, you can use AU Library’s list of databases. In this list you will find the library’s online resources. The different databases often specialise in a certain topic. You can often find the central databases within your field of study in the library’s subject guides. If you use specialised databases, you can be sure that:

  • The indexed documents live up to a certain academic standard – otherwise, they would not be in the database
  • You can limit your search to peer-reviewed journal articles (for example if you get too many hits). A peer-reviewed journal is reviewed by professional colleagues to ensure its scientific quality

Database tools


You can search in many different databases at the same time by using one of the big collections of databases – e.g. EbscoHost and Proquest – which you can find in the list of databases.

Databases vary a great deal in terms of the way they are constructed and their use of keywords, so search results cannot always be complete and precise. On the other hand, a broad search will give you an idea of which databases might reward a more focused search 


With the help of citation databases, you can examine how your sources are evaluated and employed in a scientific community.

You can check whether your references have been cited by anyone else in the citation database. Scopus and Web of Science are examples of such citation databases. You can find them in the list of databases.

A citation database registers not only the things that a document cites, but also the sources that cite the document in question. A citation database moves chronologically forwards and backwards in relation to the document you are examining.

A warning:  

Don’t become too attached to citation databases when you are dealing with research in the humanities.

  • A great deal of humanities research is still presented in monographs which are not included in citation databases.
  • The frequency of citation is not the same as that applying in the natural sciences. In the humanities, the “classics” are still cited – so the citation curves top relatively late.
  • The citation databases that include research in the humanities are newer and do not offer full coverage.

In the citation databases, you can also find documents that are related in terms of the topic they deal with.

How do I get hold of these materials?

The list below shows you many different types of resources, which you can use when searching for literature or materials. The sources and the materials you find will vary depending on the resources you employ during your search.

Journal articles

Articles can often be found directly in the catalogue by linking to the full text

If this does not produce the desired result, try searching for the journal in the AU Library’s listof databases on journals

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, AU Library will borrow it from other libraries.
A book

If a book appears in the search engine of AU Library, you can usually find it at one of AU Library’s service points. You can either pick it up at the library in question, or order it for pick-up at another library if you prefer. If the book has been borrowed by someone else or placed in the Royal Library Aarhus, you need to order it first.

If the book does not exist in AU Library, you can try searching for it at Bibliotek.dk. If the book appears here, you can either pick it up at the library in question or order it for pick-up at your preferred library.

Books that do not appear at Bibliotek.dk do not exist at any Danish library. They need to be bought or borrowed from a library abroad. The latter is possible – and it is free if the book can be found in a Scandinavian library. Read more about loans from other libraries.

Remember: You can always ask a librarian to help you find materials.

Articles in anthologies To get an article from an anthology, you must first retrieve the book that the article appears in. See the paragraph above.    
Electronic texts

If you find a reference to an E-book, an online article or another type of electronic publication, you can simply click the text open.

Remember to save the reference or the URL so you can retrieve the document later if necessary. In order to do this, a reference management program might help. Check it out under source management.

If you do not find what you are looking for, you can read about loans from other libraries.

Master's theses The option of accessing old theses varies from field of study to field of study. AU Library has a collective overview of rules and options on the page for master’s theses.   

Use the AU Library’s list of databases to search for statistics. This will give you an overview of the databases containing statistics to which you have access via AU Library.

If you have not worked with databases before, you can read more about databases and how you use them in the section about databases on this site.     

Legislative documents

Use AU Library’s list of databases to search for legislation. This will give you an overview of the databases containing legislation, laws, comments etc. to which you have access via AU Library.

If you have not worked with databases before, you can read more about databases and how you use them in the section about databases on this site.    
Radio/television A wide range of television and radio transmissions – as well as advertisements – are available for students at Aarhus University and the Royal Library Aarhus’ other users. AU Library has created an overview of these services (only in Danish).     
Newspaper articles A wide range of television and radio transmissions – as well as advertisements – are available for students at Aarhus University and the Royal Library Aarhus’ other users. AU Library has created an overview of these services (only in Danish).     

Reference management on AU Library

If you need more information on reference management AU Library has made a page on the topic. Here you will find information on different standards for referencing and advice on how to handle a large amount of references in major assignments.

Courses in reference management

AU Library regularly offers courses regarding programmes that can be used for managing references. You can get access to these programmes as a student at Aarhus University. Read more and sign up at AU Library

The content of this page is written by Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus Universitet in collaboration with Søren Elle, AU Library Arts, Jette Bohn, AU Library Arts, Anders Nyegaard Mikkelsen, former employee at AU Library Campus Emdrup and Jesper Boserup Thestrup, Royal Danish Library.