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Guide to information seeking for students at the Open University

Guide to information seeking for students at the Open University

This is a guide to information seeking for students at the Open University at Åbo Akademi. The guide includes the following content:


How to look for information

Apart from course literature in the form of books, you often need to search for information yourself. It usually means finding trustworthy information on the internet or in databases.

 Searching for information on the internet or in databases is not always as easy as you would think.

  • You need to focus your searches.
  • It is also important to choose a good search engine/database for the search in question.
  • You usually receive quite many hits when searching in a search engine. Not all of them are relevant, which means you will need to sort out incorrect information and disinformation and separate real information from opinions, rumours and propaganda. You need to be selective and not be deceived by something that “looks good”!
  • It is also important to remember to avoid plagiarism. You need to be able to refer to the used sources in a correct manner.


Tools for information retrieval:

At ÅAU Library:

If you visit the ÅAU Library’s search portal Alma you can search for example for the course literature that you need for your courses. At the same place you can also look for e-articles (choose the option “Search E-articles”).

If you live in the Turku or Vasa region, you can apply for a library card and directly borrow course literature from the ASA Library or Academill library (information about the service units is found when scrolling down the page). If you do not live in the region, you can visit your local library and ask them to request an interlibrary loan for you. There are also other options for accessing course literature, for more details, see the chapter “Outside of ÅAU”.

In order to access all the information from home, you might need to create a so-called “VPN tunnel”. It is used to build a secure, encrypted connection for an otherwise unsecure data network. This is recommended for example when using a wireless connection at home. A guide to remote access with VPN is published on the ÅAU Intranet (ÅAU login required).

Some e-book can also be accessed via Biblio. Log on to Biblio with your library card number and pin-code.


Tips for successful searching

  1. Make sure that you understand the question and the subject area.
  2. Divide the question into smaller parts.
  3. Create your search strategy according to the traits of the database. If you search in a search engine, make sure you understand how it works, as different search engines work a little differently.
  4. Change the search strategy according to the situation and be flexible.
  5. Do not restrict the search too much in the beginning.
  6. Avoid too common words.
  7. Try to broaden the main aspect of the search with synonyms, different spellings, and so on.
  8. Use lists of terms and other help, like thesauruses and the General Finnish Ontology YSO.
  9. Use Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT).
  10. Check abbreviations and their meanings.
What do you do if there are not enough search results?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I in the right database?
  • Is the search question too specific?
  • Has literature actually been written about this?
  • Are there more or other search terms?
  • Are the Boolean operators used correctly?
  • Is there a technical issue? Have I double-checked the spelling?
  • Should I direct the question to a field with natural language?
  • Did I use all possible forms of the word I am searching? Synonyms? Truncation?
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Search on the internet

The easiest way to search on the internet is to write one or several words in a field on the homepage of the search engine. If you chose a good word to search, you usually receive good results. It can be considered a good result, if within the first ten results you find at least one link that contains the information you were looking for.

Usually, each search engine has some tips and advice, which would be good to read before using the search engine (for example Google). This helps you to know exactly how you should search. You find information about how to refine your search strategy in Google Search Help. This can for example be done by using search operators, which are words that you add to your search in order to narrow it down. You do not need to memorize all the operators – it is also possible to use Advanced search (which can be found in most search engines).

Boolean search

You need to know how the search engine combines the search words using the search operators you write. In some search engines the word AND is added automatically between the words you write. For example in a Google search, you cannot use the word NOT, instead you use a hyphen, -, in front of the word you do not want. (see the earlier link).

AND: both, the document needs to contain both terms at the same time (it restricts the search, connects)

OR: the document can cover either only one of the terms or only the other term or both (this widens the search)

NOT: the document should not cover this. Needs to be used carefully, as relevant information might be excluded (this singles out, excludes results)

The Canadian Western University has published a short video that shows clearly how to search with AND and OR.

Here, on the web page of the Finnish libraries, you can find different examples of search engines, (unfortunately only in Swedish, but the page can be Google-translated). The same applies to the Finnish libraries web page about finding information.

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Database searches

Planning of your search is important and saves time in the end. The same advice applies here as for using search engines: read the available advice on how to search in each database. You need to find the right search words and synonyms, so that you can use dictionaries or thesauruses (classified lists of synonyms), see more information under Thesauruses.

It helps to have good knowledge of the subject area. If you do not know much, it might help to use a search engine to familiarize yourself with the subject.

The search
  • If you are unsure about which search words work the best, then take a look at the search words/key words from sources you already have found with the help of search engines.
  • Complete the search with synonyms, smaller or bigger concepts.
  • Check that you are spelling it correctly, as well as how it is spelled in the British and American English.

Then choose a database that is suitable for the information you need. Use Boolean search, the same way as in a search engine. Once again, remember to read the advice and tips about how to search in that specific database!

Thesaurus-controlled vocabulary

Thesauruses are tools to find the correct concept or search word. The person who entered the information in the database also used a thesaurus. That is why it is easier for you to find the material if you use the same definitions. The words are in alphabetical order and often organized systematically, which makes it easier to find the concepts you need. Remember to check which thesaurus the database in question is using.

For example the libraries in Finland catalogue their material (which means that they enter material into the library catalogue, such as Alma/Finna at ÅAU) using YSO.

There is a separate thesaurus for fiction called Kauno (unfortunately only in Swedish/Finnish).

Databases where you find scientific literature uses different thesauruses. Remember to check which thesaurus the database is based on, so that you specifically use the definitions that the database is built on.


You can use truncation for example when you are unsure about the spelling or a word is written differently in British and American English or you want to expand the search to apply to more search words. The truncation symbol is often ?, but it might also be another sign, so check this for each database separately. Truncation can be used in the beginning, in the middle or/and after the search word.


Is used to avoid effects of for example different spelling.


Gives results also for example for snowball, football and so on.

Outside of ÅAU:
  • The Finnish National Bibliography FENNICA is the Finnish National Bibliography and it contains references to monographies, continuing publications, audiovisuals and electronic materials produced in Finland. In the database there is also information on materials published outside of Finland that relate to Finland or are written by a Finnish author. The database also contains prepublication data from publishers.

Search in Fennica

Other databases that can be of use are, for example:
  • Arto, reference database for Finnish articles.
  • Doria, a service where several institutions for higher education and other organizations publish digital material
  • FIN­NA, a search service for finding material from archives, libraries and museums (the same information can be reached through ALMA)

Fin­na gives access to material and services that are in different archives, libraries and museums. At the moment, Finna contains material from tens of different organizations. In Finna you can search the collections of the libraries and archives, look at pictures of museum pieces and art, as well as download documents and old books.

Other search tools that can be of use are:
  • Finlex is a public, free internet service for legal material, which is owned by Finland’s Ministry of Justice.
  • Melinda – the national catalogue of the libraries, among others
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How to evaluate the information?

How do you know if you can rely on a specific information source? Often it is not easy to know, which is why you need to do some research, for example to establish who has written the text. Is the person connected to a reliable organization?

Linnaeus University library has written an overview about evaluation of websites.

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User rights and selfservice

When you participate in an online course through the Open University, you obtain the right to access electronic material from the ÅAU Library. You also receive a username and password to access the learning platform Moodle.

The first time you have registered and been accepted to an online course, you receive a message where you are asked to visit selfservice and sign a contract (using online banking). The contract gives you access to your username and password and consequently you can login to the course.

In selfservice you can also:

  • Change your password.
  • Forward your email. It is recommended to do this, because when you receive an ÅAU username, also an ÅAU email address is automatically created. You do not need to start using the email, however messages written in Moodle will be sent also to the ÅAU email address. In order to keep up to date with the information published in Moodle, it is recommended to forward the emails to the email address you mostly use.

Updated 15.6.2023