Database How-To Guide

What is a database?

A database is a collection of references or citations to journal articles, books, and reports. Databases allow you to find what has been written about your subject and then provides enough information to locate the items you are interested in (for example, most citations include the journal or book name, the author's name, page numbers, etc.). Many databases also provide summaries or abstracts of the articles or books and increasingly the full text of the article is also available.

Databases tend to focus on broad subject areas or disciplines such as medicine, the social sciences, or life sciences. So, if you wanted information on a disease you would need to choose a medical database like PubMed or CINAHL.

All databases are flexible as they provide different ways to search for information depending on what information you have. For example, if you have only the author of an article you can track down the whole reference from searching a database. Even if you only have a general topic in mind, then you can still search for references by keyword or subject heading.

How to effectively search a database

There are six main steps for effective searching:

  1. ANALYZE your query, thinking of all possible keywords and terms.
  2. SELECT the most relevant database (or databases) for your search from the available options. For example, if you are looking for information on diabetes, you would probably want PubMed. For information on depression, you might want to look at PsycInfo.
  3. SEARCH your database by entering the main keywords. Follow online help screens for search techniques, or visit our growing instruction page.
  4. EVALUATE your search by scanning the results and if need be revise, alter or limit your search to make it more focused.
  5. IDENTIFY the most useful references and print the items you want.
  6. TRACK DOWN the article by following the full-text link if available, checking the library catalog for availability in print on the shelves, or through our Document Delivery Department.

Last modified: Dec 05, 2012
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