Literature searching and referencing

To be confident you have something to add to the body of existing knowledge in the area and to put your ideas in the wider context it is important to be aware of other published work on the topic. You must demonstrate this understanding to readers and you then need to reference previous work appropriately.

To conduct a literature search for evidence of previous work published on your topic there is a range of support available depending on your experience.

How to search the literature effectively is an excellent learning resource providing step by step guidance to finding information and developing your skills - suitable for all levels of experience, you can complete the whole set or dip in and out to refresh your knowledge.

  • If you are a novice at searching you might find this interactive PDF useful ‘Search Tips
  • Get help to select a database to use
  • Tips for searching databases in Skills for learning at work
  • Recorded online training for some databases is available under Supplier training on the Knowledge Network Help pages
  • You may want to search other types of sources and you will find further information under Categories of Sources for Research. Twitter can also a useful source for recent publications of an organisation
  • Your local NHSScotland librarian will be able to help. See the link below for contact details
Quality assurance and critical appraisal

Quality assuring the articles (qualitative and quantitative) you find is important to ensure you do not quote an irresponsible source. Critical appraisal skills enable you to identify research articles which are sufficiently well-designed to inform practice.  Some guidance is available here. NHSS Librarians are also happy to help

Managing references

Creating your bibliography and reference list for your article is important and you should do this as you go along not wait until the end.

  • Guidance is available under General Study Skills
    • This includes the use of RefWorks which is a useful tool for authors
  • You need to check the publishers preferred style for references, usually Vancouver or Harvard – Some links can be found here
  •  Managing references – Your local NHSScotland librarian will be able to provide training and links to guides. See the link below for contact details.
  • How to create links to NES eresources - try the last selection in our troubleshooting guide
Copyright and plagiarism

It is also important to organize your notes and references as you go along to avoid plagiarism. With new software, it is now possible to check text to see if it has been published before, and many publishers automatically screen submissions this way using products such as Crossref.

Plagiarism is considered one of the three cardinal sins of publishing for scientists, along with fabrication and falsification.  It is also unacceptable to reuse your own previously published work without obtaining copyright permission or using appropriate referencing.  

To learn more about avoiding plagiarism look at some of the modules available from The University of Edinburgh or The University of Glasgow. For broader information not just related to academic writing, visit the Plagiarism.org website which includes advice on re-using videos and other media. To learn more about copyright visit the Copyright Toolkit available through the Knowledge Network. 

Contact librarians

A list of NHS Library and Knowledge Services contact details is available on The Knowledge Network.