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Tips on Using Databases


What is a database?

A database contains thousands of records of articles that may be useful for your research. The library subscribes to many databases, and our subject guides may help you select the database that contains information on your topic.

Why should I use a database?

  • Accuracy: Unlike the information on the Internet, articles in a database have been screened or fact-checked by at least one editor. Usually, information that has been reviewed by editorial staff will cost money, but, because the library pays for subscriptions to databases, you can access this information for free while you are a student.
  • Currency: Because databases present articles rather than books, they often have up-to-date information. It takes more time to publish books than articles, so current information may be found first in a database.
  • Ease: Databases contain several full-text articles, but you may merely find the citation of an article when using a database, in which case you will need to locate the print version of that article. Either way, it’s much easier to search a database than to scour the contents of several different journals or periodicals.

How do I use a database?

Not all databases are alike. Generally, though, you can search by typing in a keyword. If you get too many or too few results, you might try the following strategies to improve your search:

  • Find fewer articles: Type in at least two keywords and use the word “AND” in between them.
  • Find more articles: Use the word “OR” between keywords This works best if you are using synonyms, such as police OR law enforcement.
  • Find more relevant articles: Use the lists of related terms that often appear in the sidebar or at the top of your results page.
  • Find only scholarly or peer-reviewed articles: Look for a checkbox that will limit your results to scholarly articles.
  • Find only articles you can access online: Look for a checkbox will let you search for only full text articles.

How do I choose an article?

  • Read the title: Unlike popular magazines, scholarly journals do not offer catchy headlines or titles. The title of the article isn’t meant to grab your attention but to present the focus of the essay.
  • Read the abstract: Databases will often print abstracts along with the citation. An abstract is a synopsis of the article and can help you decide if it will further your research.
  • Check the document type: Some types of documents, like book reviews, may not present research that you can use in your papers. Book reviews are published in scholarly journals, so it’s important to check the type of document when deciding what to read.
  • Check the date and source: Make sure that you’re using a journal that will be accepted by your professor as authoritative. In some classes, newspaper articles will be appropriate while they will not work in other courses. Look for current information whenever possible.

How do I get the article?

  • Full Text: If the database has the full text of an article, it will provide a link to that article; look for a link that reads “PDF Full Text” or “HTML Full Text” or “Link to Full Text.” You can click on the link and read or print the article immediately. You might also be able to email the article to yourself; look for an “email” button.
  • Print Version: If the database does not offer an electronic version of the article, you will need to find the print version. If the library owns a print version of the journal, take down the volume and issue number, date, and page of the article and head to the library.
  • Interlibrary Loan: If the library does not own the journal, come to the reference/circulation desk in the library and request the article through interlibrary loan. You can also fill out a request for interlibrary loan through the library’s website. It may take awhile, so start your research early!

What do I need for my bibliography?

  • The citation: Search results are often presented as a list of citations. Even if you don’t need the citation to access the article, write down the publication information for your bibliography.
  • Electronic versions: If you use an electronic version of the article, you will also need to know the date you accessed the article, the date it was first made available, and the URL, depending on whether you will use the MLA or APA style. Check style guides for more information.
  • Style guides: Information on bibliographies can be found at the writing center’s website. The library also has style guides for the APA and MLA.
  • Your instructor: If you have questions about documenting sources, ask your instructor for guidance.

     



Published Mar 27, 2013


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