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Decolonising Literature Searching


About this Guide

The Library team has been investigating both the resources and strategies needed to 'Decolonise Searching'. A possible criticism of  literature searching is that it is based on established journal databases, and fails to 'surface' resources from the Global South (either by not including, or swamping out relevant resources).

The addition of additional Journal and Preprint searching, and additional Grey Literature searches to a 'Highly Sensitive Search Strategy' can improve your results, and 'Decolonise Literature Searching'.



About Decolonisation: With thanks to Dr Sunita Abraham and Dr Richard Budd

The notion of decolonising the curriculum/education is a recognised and valued area of scholarship which has attracted a significant amount of interest for some time in both academic and policy circles. It relates to the recognition that knowledge and practices in Higher Education have often been formed and shaped by aspects of Western colonialism and racism, and this makes Higher Education an unwelcoming social and intellectual space.

Decolonising raises a complex set of questions that go beyond merely extending reading lists and it requires us to think about the very nature of the hierarchical relationships in the classroom and supervisory spaces, the forms and effects of the assessments, literatures, theories and methodologies we promote, as well as how we interact with fellow scholars, students and other universities.

It is about acknowledging the legacies of slavery, colonialism and empire by addressing systemic inequalities relating to all aspects of Higher Education – curriculum, admissions, recruitment, promotions, publishing, staff and student mobility, rankings, research funding, engagement, collaborations, teaching and learning practices.

Library Case Studies: Decolonising

The Library Teaching and Engagement Team has written a series of short case studies summarising some of the project work we have been involved in around decolonising.

Some terminology

Common Terms

Global South: A term that describes countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Introduced in preference to terms such as 'Third World' and 'Developing Countries'. Countries in the 'Global South' are frequently current or historical colonial subjects.

Grey Literature: Non peer-reviewed, non journal publications such as Guidelines, Policy Documentation and White Papers. Possible barriers to publishing for countries in the Global South exist, so grey literature is a highly valuable source of evidence in decolonised Literature Searches.

Highly Sensitive Searching: Methodology for searching that ensures a high retrieval of relevant papers with the disadvantage of an increase in non-relevant papers retrieved. As smaller journals, especially from the Global South might not have complete abstracts or subject terms a Highly Sensitive Search Strategy (HSSS) along with other techniques will ensure the risk of missing papers is reduced. See the Systematic Review Libguide.

Internal/External Validity: In the context of a literature search, even the best 'internally valid' search might lack any use in the real world. If you add additional grey literature or decolonised search strategies you might consider a search to be externally valid, and more useful.

Know your Acronyms

In many of our databases, groups of countries of the Global South are referred to with a number of acronyms/terms, some more acceptable than others. A search through our databases ( is good for this) can help you scope out the 'Source Regional Groupings' for your search. 

Common Acronyms or Terms include: LMIC (Low Middle Income Countries), LIC (Low income Countries), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Medium/Low Human Development, Unicef Programme Countries, Middle East/North Africa (MENA).

If you include the 'Regional Grouping' in your search, it can help reduce the risk of missing evidence from smaller countries, such as African Sovereign States and Dependant Territories.

Non-Inclusive Terms

Terminology is fast developing, and better, more inclusive terms are being adopted and developed. This is a natural positive development of decolonisation and inclusivity projects. However you still have to be aware, and search for older terminology or you can miss large amounts of valuable research, or less suitable evidence that might be able to add historical context to your work.

A good summary document is the Oxfam Inclusive Language Guide which includes preferred language, and terms you should avoid (which in the context of a search, should also be searched for)