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Research Tutorial—Part 4

Searching in Databases

Now that you know what a database is, and how to find the databases on the Library's web page, it's time to start searching in them. But what exactly are you searching for?

Different databases have different types of materials, but in general, these are the types of things you can expect to find in a database:

  • Academic journal articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Popular magazine articles
  • Trade journal articles
  • Book reviews
  • White papers/best practice papers
  • Videos, images, and other media

The word "articles" comes up a lot in that list. Articles are the most important thing you can find in these databases. They are going to provide you with the most up-to-date research and thinking on your topic.



In this section:  

Choosing a Database

In Part 3, we showed you how to find a list of databases that are relevant to your topic. But that still leaves you with a number of different choices. So how do you know which database to start with?

Most databases fall into two categories:

  • General databases
  • Subject-specific databases

General databases cover many subject areas in one place. Subject-specific databases focus on one particular subject area. You can read the descriptions of the databases to get a sense of if it is general or subject-specific (sometimes the name of the database will give you a clue, too!).

general database examples

subject-specific database examples

So which should you use? Well, ideally, you'll use both types. General databases are a really good place to start your research. Because they cover lots of subject areas, you can be fairly confident that your search will turn up something. However, as you do more research on your topic, you may need to turn to the subject-specific databases to fill in holes or to drill deeper into your subject.

The Mechanics of Searching

Fortunately, the mechanics of searching most databases is basically the same, whether they're subject-specific or general. The example we will use in this tutorial is for a general database, but most of the databases will look similar and will have most of the same options. Sometimes they will be called slightly different things, or be found in different places, but most of the functionality will be there.

Let's go back to the education databases list we showed you in Part 3:

We're going to click on the database called "ABI/INFORM Complete" right at the top of the list. Doing so brings us to a page that looks like this at the top:

ABI header

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out the name of the database you're actually searching in, so we've circled where you can see that information.

Now you can go ahead and put in some of those key terms that you create way back in Part 1. Like this:

search box

You can use the drop-down menus to choose whether you connect your key terms with AND or OR and then you could just go ahead and click on the "Search" button and you would get results.

But! If you scroll a little further down the search page, to a section called "Search Options," you will find some check boxes that make your searches even better.

important check boxes

Bet you didn't know that check boxes could be important, did you? Well, these two are.

The "Full Text" check box does exactly what it says: it guarantees that the full text of all the articles that come up in your search results will be available to you right then and there. This is really useful, especially when you're first starting out your research. However, be aware that it does mean that some results won't show up. For now, check this box and enjoy all the articles at your fingertips!

Sometimes, professors will tell you that they only want you using scholarly articles, or academic journals, or peer–reviewed sources for your research. (scholarly = academic = peer reviewed. Three terms, same idea.) This check box ensures that all your results will be from that type of journal. No worrying about it!

(For more information on the different between scholarly and popular publications, take a look at Carleton College's great comparison chart.)

So, with our key terms put into the search boxes, and these two check boxes checked, our search page should look like this:

inputted search

We click "Search" and off we go to our results page.

The search results page in a database can give us LOADS of information, so we'll take it a bit at a time, from the top.

The top of the page repeats our search, which is useful because it shows us exactly what we looked for (remember, if there are typos, the database isn't smart enough to know what you mean!). It also makes it easy to modify our search if we want to.

results page top

Next, we have a box of "Suggested subjects"—this can be really useful if you're struggling to come up with relevant key terms. It shows you what words the database is going to look for—which is the important thing when searching. It doesn't really matter what word you want to use for something. What matters is what the database wants to call it.
You will also see the number of results—for our search, we got almost 19,000 results!

suggested subjects

On the side of the page in most databases, there will be ways to filter and narrow your search some more. In this particular database, it's on the right-hand side of the page:

sidebar

Here, you can sort your results, and filter by various options. The "Publication Date" filtering toward the bottom of the side-bar can be particularly useful—limiting your results to only things published in the last 10 years can be a good way to cut out unneeded results.

Finally, let's look at the actual article results:

results

You can get a lot of information from the results list—article titles, authors, publication dates—as well as links to the articles themselves, and even previews, which are just the abstract (summary) of the article.

Once you decide what article you want to look at more closely, you can do a couple of things.

If you want to see the whole article immediately, click on one of the "Full Text" links in the entry. If you want to print or download the article, choosing the "Full Text—PDF" option will definitely work better for you.

However, if you still want a little more information, click on the article's title. That will bring you to a page like this:

article page

Here, you can see a lot of the same information that was in the results list, but also the abstract (summary) of the article, and the text of the article itself.

When you want go back to look at another article, just click the "back to results" link at the top, and continue on your way.

back to results

Part 4 on the worksheet lets you try this out yourself.


Introduction        Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4       Part 5      Part 6       Part 7