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Guides & Tutorial, Pao-Yue Kong Library, The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong

Researchers@Library: Locate Materials

This guide serves as a one-stop shop for PolyU researchers and postgraduate students to gain easy access to information pertinent to their research and publishing needs.


1 - Preparing Your Research

 Locate Materials

  • Select Information Sources
  • Find Scholarly Materials
  • Search Tips

 Research Alerts

 Research Skills Training

 Research Funding

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Related Library Workshops

The Library conducts many workshops on finding relevant research materials from library catalogs, library databases, or online resources. Click here to know more.

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Research Support



In Person   Enquiry Counter, P/F, 
        Pao Yue-kong Library

Locate Materials

Which tool is most suited to find research or scholarly materials? 
Google, Google Scholar, OneSearch, or Library Databases?


  • Search for EVERYTHING online, both scholarly and non-scholarly
  • Usually too many results and it takes time to select

Google Scholar

  • Scholarly version of Google
  • Not all works are peer-reviewed
  • Also too many results and it takes time to select


  • One-stop platform to search for almost all library resources, both local and remote resources (subscribed databases)
  • Most resources obtained in OneSearch are scholarly works
  • Resources from specific online databases (such as newspapers, images) may not be retrieved from OneSearch. You need to go to those individual databases
  • The specificity of keywords you choose will affect the accuracy of the results returned. The more specific your keywords are in a field, the lesser number of results returned. Our advice is to play around with a few keywords and evaluate the relevancy of the results returned first. 

Library Databases

  • Subject-specific databases are specialized in materials on a particular subject, which saves your time from filtering out the contents that are not relevant to your subject (click here to see list of databases by subject)
  • Information in these subject-specific databases has been curated by subject professionals 

Scholarly materials are published works written by experts in a particular field. They are referred as academic and usually peer-reviewed works. Reference works, books, theses/dissertations and scholarly journal articles, are common types of scholarly materials. Reference books provide more general information (definitions, facts, concepts) while scholarly journal articles focus on latest development in a specific subject area. Note that magazines (or popular journals) and newspaper articles are not scholarly materials - they are popular sources targeting the general public. You are likely to use popular sources to help you build the understanding of a topic before using scholarly sources to further develop an academic argument for your research. 

Library databases contain information from published works (mostly scholarly works) and provide access to the abstracts and/or full-text of these works. Currently, the Library has subscribed to more than 500 databases. Most databases contain books and/or journals, while a few contain theses, standards, etc. Some databases are subject-specific, e.g., PubMed, IEEE, and some are multi-disciplinary, e.g., Web of Science, Scopus. To find out relevant databases in your field, access via "Databases by Subject" below or refer to your subject guide.

When to find what

The selection of the type of materials depends on the type of information you need. The table below lists some most commonly used scholarly sources and popular sources for serving different purposes. You may always refer to your subject guide for more recommended sources in your subject field.

Download the table in one-page (PDF, 124 KB)

Type of materials Purpose Recommended sources
► Scholarly sources

Reference sources

  • Handbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • etc.

To get a “definition” of a subject, like Wikipedia, but in scholarly format;
To answer specific questions;
To determine a fact

Print reference books are located at 3/F and G/F of the Library.


To get the whole picture or context of a subject

Option 1: OneSearch

     - search by keyword, the title of the book, etc.
     - narrow results to books

Option 2: Go directly to individual e-book database and search by keywords, the title of the book, etc.

Theses/ Dissertations

To understand the development of a specific topic;
To find out what has been written on a topic (Literature Review chapter);
To explore other sources through citations;
Need a reference or model to start a new thesis or dissertation

Click here to see a full list of Dissertations & Theses databases.

Scholarly Journals

  • Journal articles
    (including Reviews, Articles, etc.)

To understand the current development of a very specific topic;
To find out what has been written on that specific topic (Literature Review section);
To explore other relevant research through citations

  • Reviews - Summarize the current state of the research
  • Articles - Report new findings from original research (experiments, methods, etc.)

Citation databases (where citation information are available)

Other multi-disciplinary databases:


To find the rules, conditions, or requirements concerning definitions of terms, procedures, or quality of performance for materials, products, systems, etc.

► Popular sources


To find current and timely information about international, national and local events;
To find editorials, expert or popular opinions

Click here to see a full list of Newspapers databases.

Magazines/ Popular Journals

To find up-to-date information about international, national and local events;
To find opinions about popular culture


Click here to see difference between popular journals and scholarly journals

► Others


To find numbers, data, statistics to answer "how many" or "how much" questions

Boolean Operators (AND, OR and NOT)

  • AND combines search terms so that each result contains all of the terms. AND narrows your search.
    e.g.: youth AND drug finds articles that contain both youth and drug.

  • OR combines search terms so that each result contains at least one of the terms. OR is often used to connect synonyms or similar concepts. OR broadens your search.
    e.g.: youth OR teenager finds articles that contain either youth or teenager or both.

  • NOT excludes terms so that each result does not contain the term that follows it. OR narrows your search.
    e.g.: drug NOT alcohol finds articles that contain drug but exclude alcohol.

Search Order of Boolean Operators

NOT AND > OR (in most databases, including OneSearch); Use parentheses () if you need to override the order. 

 youth OR teenager AND drug finds articles that contain either youth (only), or teenager and drug (both word are present);
(youth OR teenager) AND drug finds articles that contain either youth and drug (both words are present) or teenager and drug (both words are present).

Truncations & Wildcards

  • Truncations (*) and wildcards (?, #) are used to broaden your search.
  • e.g.:
    comput* searches computer, computers, computing
    colo?r searches color, colour
  • Truncation and wildcard symbols may vary by database. Check the Help page in the database to learn the symbols and operators that database supports. (or, google database name + "operator" to locate the search help page directly)

Exact Phrase searching with quotation marks ""

  • Quotation marks "" are used to search an exact phrase. They narrow down your search results.
  • e.g.:
    "knowledge sharing" searches only the phrase knowledge sharing and will NOT search knowledge creation and sharing (additional words in between) or knowledge shared
  • Usually, quotation marks cannot be used with truncation or wildcards. e.g.: "knowledge shar*"
Use truncations or wildcards when you need more results; use quotation marks when you need less and more precise results.
An example to give you an expression of the number of results retrieved when using different symbols. (in OneSearch, as of 2 Aug 2017)

Keyword searching vs. Subject Heading searching

  • Keywords are natural language words or phrases that describe the search topic. Keyword searching looks for the keyword terms in any field of the record (if not specified) in a database.
  • Subject headings are a group of "controlled vocabularies" that describe the content of each item in a database. These controlled vocabularies are usually given by subject specialists or indexers. Subject heading searching looks for the subject heading terms in the subject heading field of the record in a database.
    The field name may vary by database or platform. e.g.: in OneSearch, it's called "Subject"; in EBSCOhost, it's called "Subject Terms".
  • Subject headings are extensively used for searching biomedical literature. Medline uses "MeSH", which stands for Medical Subject Headings. Embase uses Emtree. Both MeSH and Emtree allow using subheadings to narrow to one aspect of the subject.


  • Subject heading searching helps you find articles by "meaning".
    e.g.: search "knowledge management" by Subject returns results that may not contain the phrase "knowledge management" but discuss organizational learning (which is a related subject to knowledge management).
  • Some databases can recommend subject headings when you do a keyword searching. After that, you may select appropriate subject headings to search again.
    e.g.: EBSCOhost uses "Suggest Subject Terms"; Medline (via Ovid) uses "Map Terms to Subject Heading".
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