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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!).

This is an example of a general database:
Screenshot of Academic Search Premier listing in database list. Description shown with all disciplines circled.

These are examples of subject specific databases:

Screenshot of two database listings from database list. ABI/INFORM Collection description is shown with business and management circled. Psycinfo description is shown with psychology circled.

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 to the general databases list. In Part 3, you learned how to use the "Browse by Subject" menu. This time, instead of education, you are going to select general.

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

): Screenshot of Academic Search Premier advanced search page with “Academic Search Premier” circled

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:

Close up screenshot of search boxes on Academic Search Premier advanced search page. Keywords filled in with “college” on the first line and “sports OR athlet*” on the second line. The search button is circled.

You can use the drop-down menus to choose whether you connect your key terms with AND, OR, or NOT. Remember to keep synonyms on the same line. 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 "Limit your results," you will find some check boxes that make your searches even better.

: Close up screenshot of limit your results section on Academic Search Premier advanced search page. “Limit to Full Text” and “Limit to Peer Reviewed” are circled.

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 difference between scholarly and popular publications, take a look at UC Berkeley's.)

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

Screenshot of Academic Search Premier advanced search page with Keywords filled in “College” AND “sports OR athlet*” and limit to full text and limit to peer reviewed checked.

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. You will also see the number of results for your search.

): Screenshot of results page with search box and search result number circled.

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 left-hand side of the page:

Screenshot of refine results options on results page.

Here, you can sort your results, and filter by various options. The "Publication Date" option can be particularly useful—limiting your results to only things published in the last five years can be a good way to cut out unneeded results.

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

Screenshot of result listings on results page.

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. You can preview the article by clicking on the paper and magnifying glass icon next to the article title.

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 "PDF full text" 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:

Screenshot of detailed record for article titled “The Cultural Cover-up of College Athletes: How Organized Culture Perpetuates an Unrealistic and Idealized Balancing Act”.

Here, you can see a lot of the same information that was in the results list, but also includes more information about the article including subject terms, keywods, and the abstract. Click on "PDF full text" to read and print the full article.

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

Close up screenshot of top left corner of detailed record showing results list option.

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