A library database is both an electronic catalog and the access point to information from published works, such as magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, journals and other resources.
• Library databases provide access to authoritative information sources.
• Library databases provide access to resources across a wide spectrum of topic and subject areas.
• Library databases provide access to many years worth of published information at no cost to students.
• Library databases allow to to limit or expand your search results by using the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT.
• Library databases give you citation information to help you locate and cite the articles.
• Library databases give you an abstract or summary to tell you what the article is about.
• Most Library databases provide articles in full-text or PDF format.
Need help searching?
See our Guide to Database Searching for helpful tips!
A special note: For historical research, the Library also has print indexes that must be used to find older articles, generally anything published before 1985.
Before you get started on your research, it's a great idea to brainstorm a list of keywords for all the key concepts in your research question.
Try some of these steps in thinking of keywords:
- Define your topic - You can't research or write about a topic if you can't articulate what it is.
- Try writing your topic down as a sentence or a question
- Think of keywords to describe each concept involved in your topic
- Focus on synonyms and related terms. What are other ways to state your topic? Is there a specific word that will describe an abstract concept in your topic?
Sample topic: Does the death penalty unfairly target minorities?
Concept 1: death penalty
Alternative Terms: capital punishment, execution
Concept 2: unfairly targeting minorities
Alternative Terms: discrimination, racism, prejudice
Alternative Terms: African-American, Hispanic, ethnic groups
Keyword vs. Subject Headings
Keyword Search? or Subject Headings?
Keyword search allows you to use your own words to describe what you're looking for. This is how you typically search the Web using search engines like Google or Bing.
Subject headings describe the content of an item using terms that are standardized across a database. A subject heading search will return all items on that topic in a database.
Your results using Subject Headings will be more precise than a Keyword search!
To find out whether a particular database uses subject headings, look for a link labelled Thesaurus or Subject Terms. Many databases allow you to search or browse their subject headings.
How do I find subject headings?
- Start with a keyword search, using words/phrases that describe your topic.
- Browse the results; choose 2 or 3 that are relevant.
- Look at the Subject or Descriptor field and note the terms used (write them down).
- Redo your search using those terms.
Below are more useful guides to help you with your research: