Using Cross Search

CrossSearch is the University of Dundee’s database for journal, magazine and newspaper articles. It’s useful for quickly surveying what’s available in a particular area, then accessing PDFs or physical copies of things you’re interested in.

Using CrossSearch for the first time can be tricky but once you’re used to it, it’s a piece of cake. The trick really is to select the right database, then choose useful key words to search for.

Access CrossSearch


Access CrossSearch at

Log in


Log in using your university login (as for the VLE, email etc) by clicking on the link on the top right of the CrossSearch page.

Choose a database


QuickSearch presents you with a list of databases covering different areas (many of them overlap). Although “art design and media” have two sections to themselves (one for text-based documents and another for image-based ones) much of your research will actually cover other areas and you’ll need to think what these may be. In the example I’m going through here, I’m researching crime for potential design solutions. So Law, psycology, social sciences and politics all offer possible areas. But don’t worry – you can come back and repeat searches in different categories and remember that the groupings cross over so you’ll sometimes get duplicates.

For this example I’m going to select “Social Sciences”.

Enter your key words


Now you need to decide your key words. Think broadly for these. If you are too narrow (for example “children scratching names on school desks”) then the chances of you getting any meaningful results are low! But if you’re too broad, you may get more results than you can usefully handle. It’s a bit of a guessing game at first but you’ll get better at it. You’ll also see later that there’s a good way of “borrowing” other people’s key words.

The other thing to consider is thinking backwards. For example, if I’m researching “crime prevention” then rather than just search for “crime prevention” it might make sense to think about what causes crime. So I could search for “causes” and “crime”. Or I may want to be more specific as in the example here where I’m searching for links between poverty and crime.

Just remember – you can always start again. This isn’t a game show where choosing the wrong words loses you the star prize.



After you click “Go” the search begins and several librarians will begin running around their office looking for useful papers and articles for you. This may take some time depending on who’s on duty and whether they’ve had their coffee. When they find things you’ll see the numbers change (it’s all very exciting) and then when they run out of steam, you’ll go to the next screen.

Review the results


Cross-search only gives you a selection of all the things it finds (but you can click “find more” if information overload is your thing).

Note the links on the right hand side. They tell you the general topic areas that came back (could provide clues for further searches), dates and sources. You can filter your search results by clicking on those links.

Add to your “basket”


The Quick View presents the findings in a fairly straightforward manner with the authors in the first column, the title and abstract excerpt in the next column, followed by the date of publication and which database the reference was found in. (If you do lots of searches you’ll soon start to notice where most of your useful results come from and could use this information for more detailed searches later, but for now it’s not that important.) The author information may be useful if you’re looking for a specific paper and, again, as you get to know your field certain names will become familiar.

But at the moment it’s the abstract you’re interested in, and the title.

In this view you only get the first part of the abstract which may be enough for you to decide if you want to see more. If you do, click on the “shopping trolley” which will save the paper in to your personal folder for later. “Link to” tells you where you can find a physical copy in the library, and “FT” means “full text” – in other words whether you can read the article online for free.

At this stage it’s probably best just to quickly go through the list and add anything that is potentially of interest to your basket. Remember that all disciplines use their own language so be prepared to read lots of words you don’t understand – it doesn’t matter. Don’t reject something because of that, keep anything that has potential.

In this screen shot I’ve found an article on childhood poverty and how it links to crime, which sounds like it might be useful. Note that your job here is not to be too specific but to gain a general understanding of the field. You should also be open to being led down paths you hadn’t considered before.

Using “Full View”


The “full view” looks like this. If you got lots of results you probably won’t use this now but may find it useful later when looking in your “basket”. But not how the key words you searched for are highlighted and under “subject” how other key words are listed. This is a good way of thinking about other words to use for your searches.

Looking in your “basket” (or eShelf)


Clicking the “My CrossSearch” tab at the top of the screen takes you to your basket (or eShelf). You can save different searches here if you want, or just let everything mass up in a big ugly pile. It’s up to you. No pressure.

Now having filtered everything down to a few titles you can go in to more depth. Click on the title of the paper you want to look at.

Reading the abstract


This is the full view described earlier and again you can see the key words highlighted and some other suggestions. Take a look at the abstract to see if it is potentially useful and/or interesting. An abstract is a summary of the paper, the methods used, what it’s looking at, and what it found. Well-written abstracts are very useful. But be prepared for some badly-written ones – academics are not known for their writing skills (which should give you confidence in your own!)

To get the full paper, assuming it is available online, click on “Full Text” which takes you to the next screen. If there is no Full Text but a “Link To” it will tell you where in the library it is. If there is nothing you may need to get an interlibrary loan to order a copy from elsewhere for a fee.

Getting the full paper


The paper I want is available online so clicking “Full Text” takes me to the publisher’s website. It’s worth taking a look at this as it may give you clues for other searches, or you might want to browse the rest of the issue, or other issues of the journal. (Sometimes journals have special themed issues so other papers may be relevant.)

Different sites look different but for this one, there is a PDF icon and link. I can either control-click/right-click to download the PDF to my disk, or click on the link to load it in my browser.

Saving, reading, printing or discarding the paper


And this is the journal article in full ready to be saved or printed, or simply read online.

Top tip: organise your files – if you download papers, do it to a special folder rather than just your desktop, so you can find them easily. No matter whether you save it or print it, or decide it’s not relevant, make a note of the title, author, date, journal name and page number so you can find it again later. A good idea is to use index cards – you can put the bilbiographic details on one side and write a quick summary on the other, including why you discarded it, kept it etc.

That’s it

This is just a quick introduction to CrossSearch – just take some time to get used to it and to see what’s available. There are many journals related to design so get to know what they are, flick through random issues and save useful articles for future reference. But don’t forget that depending on the area you’re researching you should think about looking in other fields such as psychology, medicine etc for knowledge that can be applied to your own.

By the way, I lied about the librarians running around to get the search results.

They get PhD students to do it for them.

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