How to Conduct a Literature Search
Before you begin your literature search using UNM’s database, you will need to have a UNM login ID and password.
Statement of the Problem
Melissa is a Biology major at the University of New Mexico. Recently, she was hanging with some friends at Satellite Coffee, where she participated in a discussion about the effect of ear buds on hearing. Her friend Ryan, an avid iPod user, said he heard that using earbuds didn’t effect hearing. The discussion that ensued left Melissa wondering if there was any scientific support for her friend Ryan’s claim. Since she had to write a paper for one of her biology classes anyway, she decided to conduct a literature search to find published research into the relationship between earbud use and hearing loss. But, alas, Melissa was at a loss because she didn’t know how to conduct a literature search. Not to worry—we can help her out! Follow the simple steps below to successfully conduct a literature search.
1) log in to UNM’s Main Page at www.unm.edu
2) Click on the link “Libraries” (at top of page under main photo)
3) On the Libraries page, you will see links to all the libraries on UNM campus. The libraries most
commonly used by Biology majors are Centennial Science and Engineering (science literature)
and Zimmerman (humanities literature).
4) Click on the link for Centennial Science and Engineering Library.
5) This page indicates all the ways there is to search for material, whether it is in a book,
government publication, older shelved journal, or an on-line journal (also called e-journal).
6) Melissa’s TA indicated that only peer-reviewed scientific papers are acceptable sources for
writing a scientific paper for the biology class. This will immediately limit Melissa’s search to
journal articles only. However, if she wanted to search for a book on the subject, click on the link
for LIBROS Basic Search. In the Query box, type in “hearing Loss and earbuds”. You will book
titles such as Pow!: noise and hearing loss (NIH, 1990). But we need to find peer-reviewed
literature for this assignment, so we will exit this page and go back to the Database page
7) One of the most general and user-friendly database search engines that UNM library has is
Academic Search Complete, which is useful for many different kinds of searches. Click on the
link for Academic Search Complete.
8) In the search page (serviced by EBSCO Host), you will see a number of query boxes at the top of
the page. Using this in an appropriate way can open up whole new worlds of information! I will
give you a few pointers on how to maximize your search using a few simple techniques.
9) We need to find information on hearing loss and earbud use, right? Start by typing
“hearing and loss” in the first query box, and in the box below (leave the connector as the
default, AND), type in “earbud”. To the light of each of these boxes, you will see additional sets
of query boxes with pull-down menus. Click on the pull down menus to see that you can
constrain your search to subject, title, author or journal name, e.g. These can definitely help
maximize your effort and limit your search to a smaller subset of potential articles (otherwise,
you could be up all night sifting through a thick stack of possible matches!) For this exercise, we
will leave the Query boxes to the right in Default mode (“Select a Field (optional)” will be
visible in Default mode).
10) Now, look below the Query Boxes. You will see additional settings that allow you to further
constrain your search to: certain types of literature (e.g. newspaper articles, books, periodicals),
certain dates (maybe you only want to look at material published in the last 3 years, e.g.), or even
languages. Since Melissa’s TA indicated that only PRIMARY LITERATURE should be used to
compete her scientific paper, a good thing to do is the click on the box that indicates “Publication
Type”. Here you will select “Periodical”. You can also select in the box above “Scholarly (Peer
reviewed) Journals”, which will effectively do the same thing.
11) After selecting “Scholarly (Peer reviewed) Journals” from above, click on the “Search” link at
the bottom or top of the page.
12) This search resulted in 1 potential match on hearing loss and earbud use. This paper is “Survey
of college students on iPod use and hearing health” (Danhauer et al., 2009) published in the
Journal of the American Academy of Audiology. Because this paper was published in a scientific,
peer-reviewed journal, it is acceptable to use for Melissa’s biology class paper. She has
succeeded brilliantly in finding information for her paper and now can go home happy, to write! 13) If Melissa had not selected “Peer Reviewed Journals” from the Search page, what papers would
she have found? Go back to the Search page and “unclick” the Peer-Reviewed Journal” option.
What do you observe? Even though this method provided a greater number of article matches
(n=4), three of the papers are from magazines (Skiing, PC magazine and ASHA Leader)—not
acceptable peer-reviewed journal sources! So a note of caution: be sure you know exactly what
type of information you need to find and use the constraints built into the Academic Search
Complete database search engine to help you select the most appropriate articles for your classes. 14) Happy Hunting!
Questions to help you on your quest for additional enlightenment:
1. What is primary literature? How does it differ from other kinds of literature, such as newspaper articles? What characteristics do all papers published as Primary Literature have in common?
2. What happens if you type “ear AND buds” instead of “earbuds” into the Query box? Do you get the same paper match as before? Why or why not? What happens if you type in “earbud*”? What
matches do you get?