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Where can I look for literature?

Where can you find sources? It can be hard to know where to start when you need to find sources for a new topic. 

Start by doing a broad search to get a quick overview of the area you are researching. This can also be a helpful exercise as part of formulating your problem statement. Once you have an overview of your topic, the next step is to figure out what type of sources you will need. Click here to read more about the different ways of searching for literature

What sources do you need? 

Before you can figure out where to find the right sources, you first need to know which sources you need. What type of sources you need will depend on your information needs, which in turn, depend on the type of assignment you’re working on. University assignments are based on reading, applying and processing sources as part of your research. You can use different sources depending on the type of information you need, for example: 

  • Books provide interconnection, research history, a broad lens, and process topics within their context. 

  • Journal articles typically have narrow research questions, are more in-depth in nature and will usually include the latest research results. 
  • Overview articles compile the latest knowledge within a field of research ('overview', 'critical review' or 'review article'). 
  • Reference works can provide an overview and can be used to clarify concepts and definitions. 
  • Newspaper articles deal with topical issues, and reviews can provide new perspectives on a source. Newspaper articles can also be used in a historical context to investigate how a specific topic was dealt with by the media at the time. 
  • Websites reproduce facts about e.g. organisations and can provide you with up-to-date information, analyses, etc. 
  • Statistics can shed light on or support a trend or development described in your assignment. For example, statistics can illustrate demographic conditions or document developments within specific areas. 
  • Legal sources, including legislation, define the rules within a certain area. Preparatory legislative documents that precede any legislation or ministerial order can be a good source for elaborating the rules of an act. Another source can be court rulings that determine whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence. 

  • Images can be an important source of tracking developments within e.g. architecture, art or climate change. 

  • Data can be many things, e.g. company data or data collected over a number of years to document how something has evolved (for example data on weather). Data can also be extracted from large volumes of text in order to identify interconnections between the use of terms. Click here to read more about text and data mining (in Danish)

  • Video recordings can also be a useful source, e.g. videos demonstrating laboratory experiments or videos documenting certain events. 

There are many other types of sources that you as a student can use for your assignment. For example your old exam papers, notes you have prepared with your study group, slides that your teacher has shared with you, an assignment by a former student that you found via the AU Library/Royal Danish Library. Click here to learn more about how to use these sources in your assignment. Familiarise yourself with the rules for plagiarism. 

How to create an overview? 

A good place to start is to gain an overview of the topic online or in reference works in order to familiarise yourself with the terminology, keywords and types of sources that are relevant to your study. 

Once you have a better idea of what you’re looking for, you can begin looking through textbooks, articles and subject-specific books. Libraries and databases are a good place to start. 

You can begin with the resources and materials available at the AU Library or the Royal Danish Library. You can use the library system to search for resources and materials or use one of the many subject guides prepared by the library on the various subjects and disciplines taught at the university. A subject guide is a good point of departure if you are finding it difficult to gain an overview of the many different resources available at the library.  

It’s not necessary to read all the sources that might be relevant to your assignment during the initial search phase. Instead, you can: 

It can be a good idea to write down the main points and keywords for each source, so that you can later assess whether the source is relevant for your assignment. Click here to read more about information searches

Use the internet to gain an overview

Use the internet to familiarise yourself with your topic 

The internet can be a good place to start your search. Use most well-known search engines to gain an overview of your research topic. This can help give you an idea of the amount of literature available on the topic, keywords, types of sources, etc., which can all help you in your literature search. The overview contains suggestions for which search engines to use and what you need to be aware of when using them. 


What are Google searches good for? Gaining a quick overview of relevant players and fields of tension within the area.  

What should you be aware of? The search results have not been assessed and/or sorted, so they are best used as inspiration for further searches. A search engine like Google differs from a library database because the results you get are not transparent. Instead, they are based on a link structure and on what you have previously searched for. In other words, there are hidden algorithms that determine the results of your searches. 

Alternatives: Use the AU Library's subject guides or database list to conduct a search on your topic. You can also conduct a search via bibliotek.dk, which is a single point of access to all materials available in Danish libraries. 

2. Google Scholar

What is Google Scholar good for? Creating a general picture of the field of research and to conduct additional searches using citations. 

What should you be aware of? Google Scholar does not contain everything, rather, it takes information from various databases, so the search on a topic is not comprehensive. 

Alternatives: Use the relevant databases available via the AU Library, or check out the subject guide for your subject. 

3. Wikipedia

What is Wikipedia good for? Gaining insight into concepts and seeing how relevant issues on the topic are worded. Finding good references on the topic. 

What should you be aware of? Sources. Wikipedia is written by many different users and is not necessarily considered an academically acceptable source. Always check with your teacher. 

Alternatives: Academic encyclopedias, you might be able to find one via your subject guide. 

4. TED-talks

What are TED talks good for? Seeing and hearing authors and researchers talk about their research in a short and concise manner. This is a non-written source. 

What should you be aware of? The videos are recordings of presentations, and usually can’t be used as scientific or academic literature sources. 

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

5. YouTube

What is YouTube good for? Learning about your topic from different perspectives and getting inspired. YouTube contains videos and is a non-written source. 

What should you be aware of? Sources. YouTube is used by many different people. Researchers, companies and other interested parties post videos on the platform. There is no real editorial control of the content and the platform works by means of non-transparent algorithms. 

Alternatives: Check whether the AU Library provides access to videos within your field of study. You can ask a librarian or check your subject guide
Check the Royal Danish Library website to see what they provide access to

Alternatives to the five items above: 

Search for sources in the right places

Doing a literature search on the internet can give you access to many different sources. 

If you have an overview of your topic and have familiarised yourself with the academic field, then searching for literature online can be a big help. Click here to use the various resources available via the subject guide for your topic

Note that not all material is freely available on the internet, much of it can be hidden behind a paywall. The AU Library’s subject guides can be very helpful in this regard as they contain both open sources and resources that the library pays to have access to. 

The table below shows the types of resources you can find in the subject guides: 




to search through the content of a large amount of new textbooks 

an E-book database   

  • Proquest Ebook Central 

  • Clinicalkey 

  • Cambridge Companion 

Examples of eBook databases 

to search the content of scientific articles within many fields of study   

an article database

The AU Library has many different article databases within the subjects taught at AU. 
Your subject guide will direct you to relevant article databases. 
The biggest databases include: 

  • Scopus 

  • Web of Science 

  • JSTOR 

  • EBSCO 

  • Psycinfo 

  • Pubmed  
    and many more... 

If you know the name of a database, it’s a good idea to look it up in the database list. 

to find full-text newspaper articles  

a newspaper database

The AU Library has access to Infomedia (Danish magazines, and daily and weekly newspapers) and Factiva (foreign daily and weekly newspapers), as well as Mediestream, where you can find older newspapers (can only be accessed from campus). 

word explanations or concept clarifications.     

a dictionary

You can access various dictionaries via the library system at the AU Library. 

to gain an overview of a topic or subject area   

reference works and encyclopaedias

There are different ways of looking things up in encyclopaedias (in danish). Check your subject guide. 

For example: 
International Encyclopedia of Communication and the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences  

Works of reference and guides

Reference works and textbooks provide overview and structure 

Reference works and textbooks are authoritative sources prepared by acclaimed researchers within a field. 

Encyclopaedias, assorted textbooks and dictionaries contain short overview articles on a topic and its interdisciplinary topics. You can use them to quickly familiarise yourself with a research field, specific topic or concept. 

Use the libraries' subject guides to find relevant textbooks and reference works on your particular topic.  

What are the benefits of reference works and textbooks? 

There are several reasons why textbooks are a valuable tool during any phase of your writing process:  

  • The authors of the individual articles have been carefully selected. Only the most preeminent names within a subject area are given the opportunity to contribute. 

  • You will receive a concentrated overview of a topic, as well as references to overviews of related topics. 

  • You will gain insight into the terminology used within the field, which can help you find good keywords to further your literature search. 

  • Each entry usually ends with a short and precise bibliography for core reading. 

Types of works of reference and handbooks.   

  • Biographical encyclopaedias: If your field of research is historical or based on a historical person, it is a good idea to look them up in a biographical encyclopedia. 

  • Etymological dictionaries: If you are interested in the origins of a word, use an etymological dictionary of the language in question. 

  • Subject-specific reference works: There is usually at least one, or more likely several, subject-specific encyclopaedias within every conceivable subject area. 


You can use databases to find scientific sources that normally can’t be found using ordinary internet search engines. 

A database is a collection of academic sources and resources, e.g. articles, journals and dictionaries. You need a license to access full-text versions of the material. As a student,you can access the databases by logging into the AU library system

When you search for sources for your academic assignments, it’s usually a good idea to use the databases in combination with the standard search engines so you find all relevant sources.  

Where do you find the databases, and which ones should you choose? 

If you know the name of the database you need to access, you can use AU Library's database list. You will often be able to find the databases central to your subject area via the library's subject guides. Using the academic databases ensures that: 

  • the indexed documents have a certain academic level – if they didn’t, then they would not be in the database in question. 

  • you can delimit your search to peer-reviewed journals (if you get too many hits, for example). A peer-reviewed journal means that it has been assessed by peers to ensure the scientific quality of the publication. 

Database tools


You can search through multiple databases at the same time by using the large database collections e.g.  EbscoHost and ProQuest, which are available on the database list

As the databases are structured very differently and use keywords differently, the search result will not be exhaustive or precise. However, such a general search will give you an idea of which databases you should use to conduct a more focused search. 


You can use citation databases to check how your sources are assessed and used in the academic environment. 

You can also see if your references are cited by others in the citation databases. Scopus and Web of Science are examples of citation databases. You can find them in the database list.  

A citation database registers the citations used in a document and which sources cite the document in question. A citation database will therefore include both newer and older works relating to the document you are checking. 


Beware of relying too heavily on citation databases when it comes to humanistic research because: 

  • A large part of humanistic research communication is still done via monographs (books) that are not included in the citations databases. 

  • The citation frequency is different from the natural sciences, for example. The 'classics' are constantly cited within the humanities – the citation curves therefore peak relatively late. 

  • Citation databases that include humanistic research are of a more recent date, and there are gaps in the coverage. 

You can also use citation databases to find documents related to the same topic. 

How do I get hold of these materials?

The list below shows the different resources you can use to search for literature and other material. The sources and materials you find may differ depending on the resources you use for your search:

Journal articles

The articles are usually available online in the library system, which lets you access full-text versions via a link. 

If you can’t find the article online, you can use the library system to find the journal that published the article and order a copy of the article you need. 

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, click the link to learn more about loaning from other libraries. 


If a book is listed by the AU library system, it can usually be found at one of the AU libraries or one of the Royal Danish Libraries. Your search will cover all materials available in the Royal Danish Library.  

You can order materials or pick them up yourself at the library where they are or have them sent to be picked up at a library closer to where you are. 

If a book is not available at the AU Library, you can try to search for it on bibliotek.dk. If the book appears here, you can either pick it up at the library where it is, or have it sent to your preferred library. 

Books that do not appear in searches on bibliotek.dk are not available at any Danish library. You will either need to purchase or borrow the book from abroad. The latter is possible and free if the books are in the Nordic region. Read more about loans from other libraries

Remember: You can always ask a librarian for help to find and access materials. 

Articles in anthologies If you need an article that’s included in an anthology, you first need to obtain the book in which the article appears. See above. 
Electronic texts

If you find a reference to an e-book, online article or another electronic work when conducting a search via the AU Library system, you can usually access it directly. 

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, click the link to learn more about loans from other libraries. 

Student projects  You can access previously submitted student projects from AU, RUC and KUB. 
To access the material, you will need to be logged into the library system and be using AU’s Eduroam or VPN . 
Search for student projects. 
Statistics You can access several different statistical databases. 
The subject guide for Economics and Management includes several different statistical databases that you can use as a basis for you search. You can also find a collection of statistical databases in the subject guide for Management
Legislative material Use the Law subject guide to find the laws, legal commentaries, rulings, etc. that you can access through the AU Library. This is also where you’ll be able find different types of legal sources and a number of relevant databases. 
Radio/TV broadcasts  A wide range of commercials and TV and radio broadcasts are available through Mediestream. Read more about accessing Mediestream and the radio and TV collection on the Danish Royal Library website.  
Newspaper articles You can access various collections of Danish and international newspaper articles via the AU Library and the Royal Danish Library.     

Always remember to save your references. This applies both to internet sources and sources found in scientific databases. This will help you find the source again later if necessary, and help you reference it correctly in your bibliography. A reference management tool can help with this. Click here to read more about reference management. 

See also

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.