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How to conduct a successful literary search

Where to start?

As a good starting point and a warning how difficult the search for the truth from existing sources can be, take a look at the slides from Vorlesung und Übung "Anwendungssysteme" about the topic Techniksoziologie: Die Brücken des Robert Moses (German).


If you want to explore a topic and have not a single paper to start from, there are several direct sources that you can query:

How to proceed?

  • While reading papers that you have already found, take notes about the contents of the paper and highlight interesting citations you want to pursue. It is very useful to create a citation file in BibTex format to maintain your bibliography.
  • When done reading, look up the citations in the reference-section of those papers. Pursuing this web of citations will lead you backwards in time to uncover layers of foundation, contrasting and related work.
  • Try to see which papers cite papers you have read. This is called a forward search.
  • Use the names of people that wrote good papers to find their web-pages and have a look at their publication lists.
  • Search for departments of important universities that work in the area of interest.
  • Try to find reading lists on your topic.
  • Identify the common conferences and journals that are used in your area.
  • Go and talk to or email people that do research in the area you are interested into.
  • Use search engines:
    • DBLP
    • Citeseer
    • Google


  • Google allows restrictive searches by file-type. This is especially useful when searching for papers or slides as scientific publications mostly come as pdf or ps documents. Example queries:
    • "GPL preamble filetype:pdf" returns a pdf version of the General Public License .
    • "knowledge management filetype:ppt" returns almost exclusively introductionary slides into the topic "Knowledge Management".

Looking for books

It is often a good idea to have a look in mature research literature to get a basic understanding, an overview, or just definitions. You can find out book titles by looking into lecture slides or asking your professor. When you are looking for a specific book title, follow these steps:

  1. First, look the title up in the OPAC of the Universitätsbibliothek.
  2. If you do not find it, you may get it through interlibrary lending (Fernleihe) as described on the page Interlibrary Loan (Fernleihe) of our library.
  3. Finally, contact the library staff at the Information Center (Informationszentrum) by email, phone, or personally. This can be very helpful to get information about further resources you may use for your search. These people are experienced with all the available catalogs and databases.


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