Library Research Skills Tutorial About the tutorial
Using Resources

Database searching

You can usually use all the keywords and operators discussed in 'search strings' to search within databases that have been subscribed to and to search for relevant websites. However, databases often have some additional functions or features that you can utilise to search more effectively.

Indexes

Databases are usually carefully catalogued, unlike the web. In practice this means that you can search using indexes, you can limit your search to a certain type of information to make it more precise. For example, you may be looking for articles written by a particular author, therefore you could use an author index. If you are looking for information from a particular organisation, you could use a publisher index.

Subject headings and thesauri

Databases often use subject headings to describe records. These headings are a 'controlled vocabulary' - effectively a limited dictionary of terms used to summarise the topics covered by each record. If you are not sure what terms to use in your search, or you are getting poor results, browsing or searching through subject headings (sometimes referred to as topics) would be useful. Another common feature is a thesaurus, which is particularly useful if want to identify as many synonyms as possible for a comprehensive search.

Limiting your search

Databases often have the facility to limit your search according to criteria independent of the topic you are searching for. Using this function should prevent the need to look through a long list of results that do not meet your requirements.

Common limiting criteria are:

  • Date
  • Publication type eg book or journal article
  • Type of record eg search for full text articles only, excluding records where only an abstract is available
  • Journal title

Searching Using Citations

You may be looking for the text of a citation (reference) rather than searching for information on a particular topic. Many databases have a facility to search for a citation, which is much more efficient than trying to track it down using a general search.

Try it yourself

The freely available intute: social sciences has some of these features. Try searchingin in the 'Thesaurus' for the term welfare; you can then search the catalogue using the terms returned by the thesaurus.

The Advanced Search screen allows you to limit your searches. For example, try searching for social welfare in the 'keyword field' and limit the search to the 'Resource type Journals - full text'.

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