Literature Searching Q&A #3 Search

Welcome to the third edition of our blog series about literature searching using online bibliographic databases!

We have an in-depth Library Guide (click here to access through the Library Moodle site in the Library Guides section), which includes information on how to plan your search, tips for effective searching, a list of recommended databases and more! Through this series we wanted to answer some frequently asked questions, so we hope you will find this Q&A a useful addition to the guide.


What is Boolean logic?

Using Boolean logic when searching databases enables you to connect your search terms together to narrow or broaden your search results. The three basic Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT.  Use OR to combine synonyms of related terms and ideas together.  Use NOT to exclude terms which may have a different meaning or relevancy to those for which you are searching. Use AND to combine sets of synonym searches to find material which contains both. See the diagram below for an example of using OR and AND:

Copy of Untitled(1)

How do I enter my search terms in a database?

Having a systematic approach to searching will enable you to retrieve relevant references for your research. You can do this by searching for each concept in your research question separately, using groupings of identified synonyms. Then, combine these sets of individual terms together using Boolean logic, as illustrated above. This allows you greater control over the search terms and the ability to modify the results to best suit your inquiry.

Following the example in the diagram above:

  • First – search the database for terms related to ‘Ability Grouping’ – use a thesaurus to help you if one is included in the database (BEI, ERIC and PsychINFO all include a thesaurus).  Terms selected from a thesaurus will automatically be combined using the OR operator; if you are identifying your own synonyms ensure you use OR to combine them together.
  • Second – carry out a separate search for concepts related to ‘Mathematics Education’ and combine them together using the OR operator – don’t worry, the previous search will automatically have been saved by the database.
  • Third – combine the two searches with the AND operator to find the intersection between the two sets of references.

This should produce a set of relevant results, i.e. journal articles about  both concepts.

I haven’t found enough articles, how can I broaden my search?

If your search produces too few results, then try to broaden the scope of your search by broadening your topic. You can do this either by adding more synonyms to your search or by going back to the thesaurus and selecting broader terms. For example, when searching for ‘Autistic Education’ also include broader language, such as ‘Special Educational Needs’ and its acronym ‘SEN’. This will retrieve results which may be still relevant to your research question, but may not be covered by the original choice of narrower search terms.  Another option is to use truncation to increase the number of results; for example, search for educat* to include all the different endings of the word in your search (e.g. education, educational, educating, etc).


I have found too many articles, how can I narrow my search?

There are several ways to narrow down a search. You can alter the initial synonym search by choosing more specific language from the thesaurus – narrower terms. For example, searching for ‘Music Education’ (narrower term) instead of ‘Arts Education’ (broader term). You could also add another synonym search. For example, in the diagram above, the search is combining ‘Ability Grouping’ AND ‘Mathematics Education’. If you were specifically interested in Primary Mathematics Education you could add another synonym search for age-related topics. See the diagram below:

lit search blog

Another way to narrow your results further would be to limit the date range of the results, for example to articles published in the last 10 years.


What if these articles don’t seem relevant for my research?

You may need to rethink your search terms and conduct different combinations of searches to ensure you get the most relevant results. It may be necessary to broaden the search terms you are using, before narrowing it down with cross-searches. If the database you are using has a thesaurus, it can be useful to look at how the terms you are using have been defined for that database. If you are having problems finding relevant material you can always book a 1-2-1 session with a member of the Library Team via the Moodle site.

Are there any hints & tips for searching?

* Don’t try to combine too many sets of terms in any one search with AND – the more sets you use, the narrower your search will be and the greater the risk of there being no hits at all. Combining 2 or 3 sets is usually best.

* If there are no suitable terms in the thesaurus (many newer terms aren’t) you can search for your own term in the Title Field of the Advanced Search box.  If it consists of more than one word, remember to enclose the term in speech marks. You can then check the subject terms (i.e. thesaurus terms) for the article references you find and use those to search further.

* Look at the list of subject headings in relevant articles and make a note of any that look interesting or relevant for use in subsequent searches.

* Check the references at the end of any relevant article you find – some databases provide links to the references and also to articles which have cited the paper you’re interested in.


Does every database work in the same way?

You can find specific guidance on searching different databases on the Literature Searching Guide, but the databases highlighted there all work in very similar ways using the Boolean operators covered here.

Note that the coverage and thesaurus terms can differ between databases, so it is important to remember to modify your terminology when you are searching depending on which database you are using.

What is the benefit of setting up an account on the databases?

Creating an account is useful for saving searches, as it allows you to keep track of the search terms you have used and then to rerun these searches to check for any additional new publications.


For more information on searching for journal articles go to our Literature Searching guide, click on the ‘Searching for Journal Articles’ tab near the top of the web page and select ‘Search’ in the drop down menu or in the ‘Literature Searching Cycle box’. Click here to access the guide via the Library Moodle site, found in the Library Guides box.



Did you find this helpful? Check out our previous blogs in the series on Database FAQs: General questions and  Planning your search. Watch this space for the final installment next week, Evaluating Search Results!


Literature Searching Q&A #2 Planning your search

Welcome to the second edition of our blog series about literature searching using online bibliographic databases!

We have an in-depth Library Guide (click here to access through the Library Moodle site in the Library Guides section), which includes information on how to plan your search, tips for effective searching, a list of recommended databases and more! Through this series we wanted to answer some frequently asked questions, so we hope you will find this Q&A a useful addition to the guide.


Which databases will be of most use to me and how do I access them? 

There is a list of databases, including their broad subject coverage, in the Databases – quick access tab on the Literature Searching Guide.  The table below outlines information about the coverage of each database, which you might find useful.  Remember that you will probably need to search more than one database to find the literature you need.

Database grid Jan 2020

How do I plan my search?

Identifying the different concepts of your research and selecting the correct terminology are two of the most important aspects of literature searching.  Typing your entire research question into a database isn’t going to return many results so it’s important to think about what you are looking for and how you can describe this before you start searching.

Let’s look at the following example…

Investigate the effects of ability grouping of primary school pupils within a mathematics class.

There are three clear concepts within this statement: ability grouping, primary education and mathematics.  For each of these three concepts you will need to think of all the different ways in which these concepts are described.  Remember to take into account spelling variations, acronyms and abbreviations. Alternatively, you could use an online thesaurus to identify subject terms used in the database.

lit search blog

Databases operate using Boolean logic: OR is the command used to combine synonyms together; AND is the command to use when crossing different concepts together.

Several bibliographic databases also have a thesaurus, which is list of ‘controlled’ or defined subject terms used in that database to index articles, or in other words, to describe their subject content.  A thesaurus will also situate a term in relationship to other terms so that any term you look up may have a ‘broader term’, ‘narrower terms’, and/or ‘related terms.  This can help you to identify the most appropriate terms to use for your search.

It is useful to remember that many of the databases cover topics in multiple English-language journals, so there may be different ways of expressing something which means the same thing. In the search above, for example, there is listed the American phrase ‘Elementary Education’ in a search string, as well as the British ‘Primary Education’.

For more examples of planning a search and a search preparation form click on the ‘Searching for Journal Articles’ tab near the top of the Literature Searching guide. Then select ‘Plan’ in the drop down menu or in the ‘Literature Searching Cycle box’. Click here to access the guide via the Library Moodle site, found in the Library Guides box.


Did you find this helpful? Be sure to check out part 1 of this series on general FAQs when searching databases, and check this space next week for part 3 on tips for searching!


Literature Searching Q&A #1 General Questions

Welcome to a new blog series about searching for high quality scholarly material using bibliographic databases!

Remember that the Literature Searching Guide (click here to access it via the Library Moodle site in the Library Guides section), includes detailed information on how to plan your search, tips for effective searching, a list of recommended databases and more! Through this series we aim to answer some of the most frequently asked questions, so we hope you will find this Q&A a useful addition to the guide.


What is a bibliographic database?

Bibliographic databases are organised digital indexes of references to published literature, particularly journal articles and conference proceedings.  What makes them distinctive is that they contain rich subject descriptions of material in the form of keywords, subject classification terms and abstracts.  Some databases may be general in scope (e.g. Scopus) or cover a specific academic discipline like Education (e.g. the British Education Index).

Why use a bibliographic database to search for material?

There are a number of advantages in using a bibliographic database:

  • They often include a thesaurus which can help you to select your search terms
  • They enable you to search for and access high quality scholarly material
  • They are brilliant for conducting a thorough, systematic & exhaustive search of the literature
  • You can conduct searches using sophisticated techniques, be precise about what you are searching for and achieve relevant results
  • They include an account facility which enables you to save searches and easily update results

What is the role of iDiscover?

We recommend that you only use iDiscover to search for books and known journal articles.  There is no in-built thesaurus for iDiscover so you have to think of all of the search terms yourself. It is also difficult to perform a structured search on iDiscover so you often end up with thousands of results to analyse, many of which are not relevant.

What does ‘Peer Review’ mean?

Articles that are peer-reviewed mean they have been approved by a panel of experts on an editorial board before they are accepted for publication; for this reason, peer-reviewed journals are often regarded as the best in their field.

Not all articles go through the peer-review process – for example, those in professional magazines do not usually undergo the same scrutiny. So although you can read these to build your subject knowledge, they are not recommended for extensive use in your work.

When searching bibliographic databases, you can usually limit your search to academic journals/peer-reviewed articles.

This feels awkward to use. Why can’t I just search Google Scholar?

It is not possible to search Google Scholar in the same way that you can a bibliographic database.  There is no thesaurus facility for selecting  ‘controlled vocabulary’ or subject terms and you cannot combine terms together in the same systematic way that you can using databases.  There are also no facilities to save your searches on Google Scholar. It takes a little time, but will be a worthwhile skill to have in your current and any future research projects. Remember, you can find guidance on search strategy, keywords, database coverage and information evaluation in the Literature Searching Guide on the Library Moodle Site.

What if the material isn’t available online?

You can check iDiscover to see if the University holds a physical copy of that journal, which you can scan or consult in one of the many libraries. If Cambridge doesn’t hold the journal, it may be possible to obtain the article on InterLibrary Loan but unfortunately there is a charge for that.  If you have any questions about accessing resources, please just contact the Education Library Team (

How do I access materials in other libraries?

Most Faculties and Departments in Cambridge have their own dedicated subject library which can be used by members of the University from other Faculties. Members of the University are also entitled to borrow designated materials from the University Library. While much of the collection is on open shelves, some needs to be ordered in advance, or consulted in reading rooms in the UL. You can find more specific information about materials on iDiscover, or contact the UL at with specific questions. Material from other Cambridge libraries cannot be borrowed from/delivered to the Education Library, or returned to the Education Library.

What are some tips for finding resources other than electronic journals (like, books)?

If you are exploring bibliographic databases for material related to your research, you can also check out the book reviews or other material which may be relevant to your research. You can find information on Searching for Print and Electronic books on the Literature Searching Guide. If you already know the title you are looking for, or would like to directly search for material already held in the Cambridge Libraries, you can find tips for searching the library catalogue, iDiscover, on the FAQs of the Library Moodle Site, or check out our Top Tips for Searching iDiscover on the Library Blog.


Did you find this helpful? Watch this space for part 2 of this series, ‘Planning your search’, coming next week!

Presenting our Faculty Publications – Winter Warmers

Oh, the weather outside is frightful-ly suited to staying in and checking out one of these recent publications from Faculty of Education staff!



Getting the snow-ball rolling on our list, is a monograph by Tyler Denmead on his work in arts, creativity and race.

Denmead, T. (2019). The Creative Underclass: Youth, Race, and the Gentrifying City. Durham: Duke University Press. 

The Creative Underclass

“This books challenges the common sense view that creativity has played a positive role in kickstarting urban renewal in American cities during the past two decades. Informed by cultural studies and critical whiteness studies, The Creative Underclass advances theorization of the unmarked whiteness of “the creative,” and, in turn, how both urban and educational policy and practice in the United States have invested culturally and economically in whiteness through state-subsidized urban renewal projects. Amidst this cultural landscape, this book illuminates how young people of color from low-income backgrounds deploy creative practices to trouble their social position as members of an “underclass” who stand in the way of urban progress, and how those same practices can become entangled in the revitalization of cities at their expense.” (Tyler Denmead)



See Liz Maber‘s cool-as-ice chapter on inclusive education in Myanmar!

Maber, E.J.T. & Mar Aung, K. (2019). Gender ethnicity and disability: approaching inclusivity in Myanmar’s education reforms? in Schuelka, M.J.m Johnstone, C.J., Thomas, G. & Artiles, A. (eds.) The SAGE handbook of inclusion and diversity in education (pp. 404-418). London: SAGE. 




Absolutely sleigh-ing it are the number of faculty members appearing in The Routledge International Handbook of Research on Dialogic Education!

Find chapters by: Rupert Wegerif, Paul Warwick, Vic Cook, Christine Howe, Sara Hennessy, Neil Mercer, Riikka Hofmann, Peter Dudley, Fiona Maine, Louis Major, Hillary Cremin, and more!

Mercer, N., Wegerif, R., & Major, L. (eds.) (2019). The Routledge International Handbook of Research on Dialogic Education. London: Routledge. DOI:


Dialogic Education

Edited by Faculty members Rupert Wegerif, Neil Mercer and Louis Major, this is the first Handbook of research in Dialogic Education and marks, as they say, “the coming of age of dialogic education as a distinct topic” (pp.1) and area of research. Containing research undertaken in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America, and South America, it responds to global challenges in education. Exploring a range from theoretical general issues to specific contextual applications, the chapters in this work acknowledge that dialogue is not limited to speech as a mode, and identify challenges and areas for future work.


See what some of the staff members are saying about their own chapters:

Chapter 13: Classroom dialogue and student attainment: Distinct roles for teacher-led and small-group interaction?, pp. 182-195, Christine Howe, Sara Hennessy, and Neil Mercer.

“After reviewing relevant literature, Chapter 13 by Christine Howe, Sara Hennessy and Neil Mercer summarises results from their recent ESRC-funded project. The project is one of very few large-scale, systematic investigations of the implications of classroom dialogue for student learning. The project has gone beyond a general endorsement of the relevance of dialogue for it has succeeded in pinpointing specific features that make a difference. One of the chapter’s major conclusions is that the features that are most readily incorporated into teacher-student dialogue may differ from those most readily triggered during group work amongst students.”


Chapter 17: Teacher professional development to support classroom dialogue: Challenges and promises, pp. 238-253, Sara Hennessy and Maree Davies.

“This chapter looks through a critical lens at the successes and failures of the teacher professional development (TPD) programmes supporting more dialogic approaches. It describes some positive outcomes – but also raises awareness of the issues arising with implementing these international programmes: demands on teachers, timescale for having an impact, difficulty in identifying which features are pivotal, sustainability beyond their duration and scalability to wider contexts. The chapter concludes with recommendations for designing and supporting successful, sustainable, school-based TPD in diverse contexts.”


Chapter 23: Reading as a transaction of meaning making: Exploring the dialogic space between texts and readers, pp.336-347, Fiona Maine.

“In Fiona Maine’s chapter she explores the notion of ‘dialogic readers’ as critical and creative, responsive, collaborative and reflective, considering the space between text and readers as where meaning is made and the transaction of reading is realised. The chapter finds that the children use the language of reasoning, but particularly the language of possibility to engage with the texts and each other.”


Chapter 27: Affordances for dialogue: The role of digital technology in supporting productive classroom talk, pp.394-410, Louis Major and Paul Warwick.

“Recent technological advances and the enhanced availability of digital tools in classrooms have seen increasing attention paid to the interaction between, and possible interdependency of, a dialogic pedagogy and digital technology. In this chapter, we reflect on the role of digital technology in supporting productive classroom dialogue. In particular, we suggest how the idea of ‘affordances for dialogue’ may helpfully inform researchers, practitioners and developers interested in the role of digital technology in dialogic contexts.”


Chapter 42: Understanding conflict transformation dialogue through coding based on Buber and Rogers, pp.610-621, Toshiyasu Tsuruhara and Hilary Cremin.

“This chapter is a collaboration between Hilary Cremin and her recent post-doctoral researcher, Toshi. Together we have worked out a coding scheme for restorative dialogue following conflicts in schools, and Toshi talks here about how we went about it.”




Looking for a shorter kind of bauble? You can check out Frances Foster‘s recent article in the journal Language & History!

Foster, F. (2019). Teaching ‘correct’ Latin in late Antique Rome. Language & History. Vol. 62(2), pp. 57-73. 


Language & History

Frances Foster examines the commentary of one grammaticus, the late antique teacher and writer Servius (fl. 390-410), in teaching ‘formal’ or ‘correct’ Latin to  an ever-widening group of colloquial and non-native Latin speakers. She looks at instances in which Servius addresses students of differing linguistic backgrounds, although he only uses the target language in his Commentary, and examines how Servius may have addressed multiple linguistic purposes of varying degrees of formality in his teaching.


You can discover the full range via #EdFacPublications


Merry Reading!

New in the Library – Top Picks! Special edition: Children’s Literature

Our top picks of new children’s literature books available in the Education Library this week!

monty mouse

Fleet, K., & Cogo, A. (2019). Monty Mouse of Cambridge town. Cambridge: Galileo.

Found in the Education Library at FLEET, click here to check availability.


Akata Warrior

Okorafor, N. (2018). Akata warrior. New York: Viking.

Found in the Education Library at OKORAFOR, click here to check availability.


The shadow speaker

Okorafor, N. (2007). The shadow speaker. New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children.

Found in the Education Library at OKORAFOR, click here to check availability.


Zahrah the Windseeker

Okorafor, N. (2005). Zahrah the Windseeker. Boston, MA: Graphia.

Found in the Education Library at OKORAFOR, click here to check availability.


PLATH Bell Jar

Plath, S. (1996). The bell jar. London: Faber and Faber.

Found in the Education Library at PLATH, click here to check availability.



Taylor, S., & Jullien, J. (2015). Hoot owl, master of disguise. London: Walker Books.

Found in the Education Library at TAYLOR, click here to check availability.


pullman - secret commonwealth

Pullman, P. (2019). The Secret Commonwealth. Oxford: David Flickling Books.

Found in the Education Library at PULLMAN, click here to check availability.


rowling - goble

Rowling, J. K. (2019). Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (Illustrated Edition). London: Bloomsbury.

Found in the Education Library at ROWLING, click here to check availability.

New in the Library – Top Picks!

New in the Library this week!

modelling exciting

Bushnell, A., Smith, R., & Waugh, D. (2019). Modelling exciting writing: a guide for primary teaching. Los Angeles: Learning Matters.

Found in the Education Library at 420/72 BUS, click here to check availability.


Goodbody, A, & Johns-Putra, A. (2019). Cli-fi: a companion. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Found in the Education Library at 801 GOO, click here to check availability.


messy maths

Robertson, J. (2017). Messy maths: a playful, outdoor approach for early years. Bancyfelin: Independent Thinking Press.

Found in the Education Library at 372/212 ROB, click here to check availability.


teaching and learning social media

Vega-Castaneda, L., & Castaneda, M. (2019). Teaching and learning about difference through social media: reflection, engagement, and self-assessment. London: Routledge.

Found in the Education Library at 371/9 VEG, click here to check availability.



Nijkamp, M. (2018). Unbroken: 13 stories starring disabled teens. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Found in the Education Liobrary at NIJKAMP, click here to check availability.


learning before technology

Zierer, K. (2019). Putting learning before technology!: the possibilities and limits of digitalization. London: Routledge.

Found in the Education Library at 371/33 ZIE, click here to check availability.


boys don't try

Pinkett, M., & Roberts, M. (2019). Boys don’t try?: rethinking masculinity in schools. London: Routledge.

Found in the Education Library at 371/92 PIN, click here to check availability.


developing research in math

Dreyfus, T., Artigue, M., Potari, D., Prediger, S., & Ruthven, K. (2018). Developing research in mathematics education: twenty years of communication, cooperation and collaboration in Europe. London: Routledge.

Found in the Education Library at 510/7 DRE, click here to check availability.


The educated underclass

Roth, G. (2019). The educated underclass: students and the promise of social mobility. London: PlutoPress.

Found in the Education Library at 378/2 ROT, click here to check availability.


action research inclusive ed

Armstrong, F., & Tsokova, D. (2019). Action research for inclusive education: participation and democracy in teaching and learning. London: Routledge.

Found in the Education Library at 370/78 ARM, click here to check availability.


celebrating difference

Dellenty, S. (2019). Celebrating difference: a whole-school approach to LGBT inclusion. London: Bloomsbury Education.

Found in the Education Library at 371/9 DEL, click here to check availability.



Porritt, V., & Featherstone, K. (2019). 10% braver: inspiring women to lead education. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Found in the Education Library at 371/2 POR, click here to check availability.

mastery mathematics

Newell, R. (2019). Mastery mathematics for primary teachers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Found in the Education Library at 510/72 NEW, click here to check availability.


a practical guide

Lee, C., & Ward-Penny, Lee, R. (2019). A practical guide to teaching mathematics in the secondary school (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Found in the Education Library at 510/73 LEE, click here to check availability.


psychology for teacherslearning to teach secondary









  • Castle, P., & Buckler, S. (2018). Psychology for teachers (2nd ed.). London: SAGE.Found in the Education Library at 370/15 CAS, click here to check availability.
  • Capel, S., Leask, M., & Younie, S. (2019). Learning to teach in the secondary school: A companion to school experience (8th ed.). London: Routledge.Found in the Education Library at 373 CAP, click here to check availability.