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Law: Searching

How to search for sources

When searching for sources, everything depends on choosing the applicable search terms.

It is important to pick out key concepts in project descriptions, and use those as search terms; for example, What is the correlation between anorexia and depression? The key concepts here are correlationanorexia, and depression.

One must also think outside the box and find synonyms, narrower terms, and/or broader terms, whether it be in English or other languages. Using the example above on the correlation between anorexia and depression then:

  •  ... a broader term could be ...
    o   anorexia -> eating disorders
    o   depression -> mental disorders
  •  ... synonyms / related terms could be ...
    o   correlation -> interconnection, correspondence
    o   depression -> melancholia

The following web sites can be useful in finding synonyms and related terms:

  • – various dictionaries (English and other languages)
  • The various databases also offer thesauruses to aid in finding good search terms

Most often it is not enough to use one single search term; this usually returns limited search results. When using more than one search term, so-called Boolean operators, AND, OR, and NOT, are used and these are always written in capital letters.

  • AND = to find two or more words together on a web page or in an article - for example:
    o   children AND behavior
    o   Iceland AND banks AND crisis
  • OR = to find either word; good for searching for synonyms - for example:
    o   lystarstol OR anorexia
    o   Covid-19 OR coronavirus
  • NOT = to exclude words that do not belong in the search results - for example:
    o   jaguar NOT car (when searching for sources on the feline Jaguar)
    o   fuji NOT film (when searching for sources on Mount Fuji in Japan)


Most search engines and databases understand space between words in such a way that both search terms should be searched for (or all the search terms if there are more than two search terms), although this is by no means universal.

In Google and Google Scholar the plus sign (+) is used instead of AND and the minus sign / dash (-) instead of NOT.

In most databases and library systems, the advanced search feature provides users with the option of selecting the Boolean operators AND, OR, and  NOT in drop-down menus and thus connect search terms.

Place quotation marks “...” around search terms that are to be kept together, for example,

  • “behavioral disorders”
  • “business management”
  • “body mass index”

Quotation marks can also be used together with Boolean operators - for example:

  • Iceland AND “financial crisis”
  • children AND “body mass index” NOT “United States”
  • (children OR teenagers OR adolescents) AND “body mass index” NOT “United States”


Google is by far the most popular search engine today.

When searching with Google, the search engine understands spaces between search terms as a request for web pages containing both search terms (or all of them if more than two search terms are entered) on the same web page.

To ensure that both or all search terms occur on each web page displayed in the search results, a plus sign (+) must be entered in front of all search terms and placed right up against the terms, for example,

  •  +children +behaviour (searches for web pages on the behaviour of children)

If search terms are to be excluded from search results, a minus sign / dash (-) is used and placed right up against the terms, for example,

  • “financial crisis” –Iceland (searches for web pages on financial crises but not the financial crisis in Iceland)

Always place quotation marks around words that are to be kept together when searching on Google, for example,

  • “behavioral disorders”
  • “business management”
  • “body mass index”

When searching for academic sources online, it is highly recommended to use Google Scholar which finds articles in academic journals in addition to other reliable online sources. Google Scholar can be configured in such a way that the search engine provides links to the full text of journal articles within databases that the library has access to. In such cases, Til| appears on the right side of the screen.

To set Google Scholar so that it accesses sources in the library subscribed databases, see instructions for configuration.

Not all web pages fall under the definition of being reliable sources. Web pages hosted by public institutions should, however, in most instances qualify as reliable sources.

The following criteria are often used to assess the reliability of web pages:

Reliable party

Who is the author of the material? Can the author be contacted—is, for example, the e-mail address of the person available?

Does the author have expert knowledge in this particular field - is the author, for example, a specialist at the institution that hosts the web page?

  • Has the author written more on the material? Google the author, search for his or her name in library systems.
  • Note that you must distinguish between the editor of a web page and the author of published material.
  • Who publishes the web page, that is, who hosts the web page? Is it a reliable party?
    Look at the first part of the URL, i.e. www.???.?? Is it an individual,  a university, an institution,  a professional association, a company ...?
  • Also look at the endings of the address. Does it end in ...
    .gov (governmental entity)
    .edu (educational institution)
    .org (organisation – an institution or organisation that receives no financial gain from its operations)
    .com (commercial entity – business and/or services)

Unbiased discussion

  • What is the purpose of the web page? Is it to sell, educate, express an opinion, publish facts, news ...?
  • How detailed is the information presented?
  • Is the discussion one-sided or is the material discussed from more than one point of view? Does the language show signs of prejudice? Does the information on the web page conform to other sources on the same subject?

New information

  • When was the page created?
  • When was the page last updated?
  • Are the links on the page active?
  • Do the links lead to “good/reliable” pages and do they add anything to the material on the page?

The library subscribes to numerous databases, in addition to providing access to domestic and foreign databases that are free of charge. An overview of the databases can be found on the database page.

The main databases are the following:

  • The encyclopedia Britannica Online. – Ideal for searching for definitions of terms, events in the history of mankind, or a well-known individual.
  • The aggregated databases like ProQuest. – Covers a wide range of fields and offer access to articles (abstracts and full text) in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and general journals, articles from newspapers and news feeds.
  • Specialized databases are suitable for searching for sources in individual academic fields. – For example, the legal databases FonsJuris (Icelandic), Karnov (Danish), and  Lovdata (Norwegian), and the computer science database ACM Digital Library.
  • Databases housing scholarly journals of individual publishers. - WileySage, and Science Direct (Elsevier).
  • Reference databases, i.e. databases which provide information on and abstracts of articles in scholarly journals (full text is not available in the database itself). – For example, Web of Science (WoS), which is a database of ISI (Institute of Scientific Information), high-quality journals in various academic fields.
    WoS provides a link to full text through databases that LIRU has access to (if at all possible).
  • Icelandic databases, such as:
    o - Icelandic journals from the beginning of publication
    o   Opin vísindi  - institutional repository for peer reviewed articles published in open access and doctoral dissertations by Icelandic universities
    o   Hirslan (repository of Landspítali University Hospital) - mostly articles and papers in the field of health sciences
    o   Rafhlaðan - material which has only been published in electronic format
    o   Skemman – repository for final theses from Icelandic universities
    o   Greinasafn Mbl. – articles from Morgunblaðið newspaper

The journal list allows you to access every journal that the library subscribes to. The journals are accessible through our databases, some accessible through more than one database. If you are searching for a specific journal, type the title of that journal in the search window on the journal list. Change the interface to English and check the box "Starts with".

You can also browse through the journal list by typing in a word that you want a journal title to include, i.e. accounting. You can even type in the stem of the word along with a star, i.e. account* and check the box "Contains", which should yield results with every possible ending of that particular word.

The search results should give links to the journal/-s, which could be accessible in one or more databases. You should also see information about the journal account, i.e. how far back the subscription goes, if there is an embargo (the most recent issues are commonly not accessible) and a symbol stating whether the journal is peer-reviewed (a magnifying glass and a paper).

General search tips

General search techniques for students who need sources for an academic paper:

  1. Identify key terms and phrases related to your topic: Start by brainstorming a list of relevant terms and phrases that you can use to search for sources. This will help you find information that is closely related to your topic.

  2. Use advanced search features: Many search engines have advanced search features that allow you to filter your results based on specific criteria. You can use these features to limit your search to certain types of sources, such as scholarly articles or books, or to a specific date range.

  3. Utilize databases: Reykjavik University has access to online databases containing many scholarly resources. These databases are often organized by subject area and can provide access to academic journals, books, and other sources.

  4. Check citations: Once you have found a relevant source, check its references and citations for additional sources. This is a great way to find more resources that are closely related to your topic.

  5. Use different search engines: Different search engines may yield different results, so try using multiple search engines to find a variety of sources.

  6. Be specific in your searches: The more specific you are in your searches, the more likely you are to find relevant sources. Use specific keywords and phrases, and try to avoid using broad terms that may generate irrelevant results.

  7. Evaluate sources for credibility: Once you have found potential sources, evaluating their credibility is important. Look for sources that have been published by reputable publishers or institutions, and check the author's credentials to ensure they are qualified to write on the topic.

Overall, combining these techniques can help you find high-quality sources for your academic paper. It's important to take the time to search carefully and critically evaluate each source to ensure its relevance and credibility.