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Databases may look different from each other, but most of them share similar features.
Being able to understand these similar features will help you move from one database to the next with more ease.


Before you start using a database …
Make sure you:
Develop a Search Strategy

 How to organize your search strategy:
Searching
Search Results
How to Manage your Results
Search Tips

 


Before you start using a database …
Take some time to learn how a database works and try different searches
Read the screens carefully
Consult individual help screens
Electronic databases may have either abstracts, full-text articles or citations.


 Make sure you:
Select the right database – what areas does the database cover?
Find out what it covers and its types of publications – does it cover journals, conference proceedings, books, etc.?
Check what range of publication dates it covers – Is it current and how far back does it go?


 Develop a Search Strategy
Make sure your topic is precise; don’t start with a common word like “advertising” which will give you thousands of results.
Try to use at least two words unless you are searching for something very rare like “tsunami”.
If you “need information about the impact of advertising or media on adolescents or young people” the key concepts to concentrate on would be:
e.g. “advertising” or “media” on “adolescents” or “young people”.

 

Here are different modes of searching, which give different results:
Basic searching – often functions as a keyword search. A basic search usually gives a large number of results, some of which may be irrelevant.
Advanced searching – usually offers multiple fields to enter your terms. If a lot of limitations are entered, this might give very limited results. You might specify Boolean operators between field searches for better search results.
Keyword searching – often searches across all fields or the full text document and it results in a large number of search results.
Subject searching – usually differs from database to database as the “language” or controlled vocabulary of subject headings in every index varies from one database to the next. Check the database’s thesaurus to identify the correct subject term.

A number of databases have advance search as their default and others go into simpler search modes. As the advance search gives more search options, it is recommended that you use this mode for your searching.


What Descriptors / Related Subjects are given and how are they used?
Descriptors are the index terms assigned by the database to describe the content of a document. By identifying these descriptors and using them in your searches, it can help you get more precise results. Each database uses its own set of descriptors.
Because these descriptors are not always so obvious, you can use the following ways to identify relevant descriptors in databases:

- Browse through the results records
Once you find a record which is relevant to your topic, check the related subjects or descriptors used to describe an item. These give you a broader selection of terms you can use in your searches.

- Search the database’s thesaurus
Each database usually gives a thesaurus with preferred related subjects /descriptors, which are used to describe their content. Thesauri may be arranged from broader to more general subjects at the top, from narrower to more specific subjects, etc.
 

Search results may vary. You may get:
- Too many, which means you have to modify your search by using only a specific field, adding date, full-text or peer-reviewed limitations, etc.
- Too few, in which case you change your search to other terminology
- No records, then you check your spelling or fields you are searching.
- Irrelevant results, then try new search terms with related concepts, or use subjects/descriptors from the database or use a different database.

Results lists
Once a search is done, your results will appear in:

- full-text or abstract – if the database you are using is in full text or abstracts
- citations with items that match your search

Once you have the record, you click on the item’s title to see the results and decide if you need the item. Remember that not all databases have the same features.
 

Databases usually allow you to:
- mark or select the records you want to search so that you can later print, e-mail or save them in your account
In all cases, check for the “Marked records” or “Mark list”, the “print button” or the “email button” where you can send or export your results. Include a note to make it easier to find it later on.
 

Use advanced search features to modify your search and get better results. These usually include:
- phrase or proximity searching
- field searching
- date
- document and / or publication type
- Boolean operators
- Plurals and truncation

Make sure that when you search an electronic database you leave out articles, prepositions, and abstract or general terms – these tend to confuse the database search engine.
For example, if the paper is on “The impact of alcohol on driving” use the most precise terms like “alcohol” and “driving” and leave out impact, the, of, on.

Use advanced search features to modify a search to obtain more successful search results.
Remember, that normally a good search results in approximately 50 to 75 records. Advanced searching methods may be combined to modify and improve your search.

Phrase or proximity searching
Some databases automatically search for your terms as a phrase within the same proximity rather than searching each separately. In others though, you can specify by using “ ” or by using the letter w
e.g. “higher education”
higher w education

Field searching
Terms can be searched through the use of the pull-down list to specify a field
e.g. Jefkins Choose a Field
Keyword (KEY)
Title (TI)
Subject (SU)
Author (AU)
Make sure that your search terms are in the same format used by the database’s field, i.e. if you limit your search by descriptors, you should not use terms that are not descriptors or if you search for an author by using his first name first and then his last name make sure the database works in the same way otherwise you will not find anything.


Date
Databases offer the possibility of a search specified by years or dates. These are entered either in a field search for publication date/year, using pull-down lists to select dates, or typing dates into a date/year entry box.

Results, in some databases, may be listed in reverse chronological order –most recent items at the top of the results or you may specify the sort order yourself.

Publication type
Database searches allow you to limit searches to specific types of documents or publications, i.e.
- peer reviewed or refereed publications
- editorials, reviews, etc.
- newspapers, magazines, videos, books, etc.

Some databases allow you to limit items to those available as full text. These limits may be check boxes or pull down lists.

Boolean operators
Most databases allow Boolean operators, AND, OR and NOT, to be used between search terms to modify a search. Enter these in capitals, or they will be treated as stop words and be ignored.
- AND is used to narrow a search. It looks for both terms in the same record.
e.g. computers and children

- OR is used to broaden a search. It looks for either term in the same record and this expands or adds to your search.
e.g. computers or technology

- NOT excludes material from a search. It is used to eliminate records with a certain term. NOT must be used with caution as it can eliminate results
e.g. psychology not counseling

- Parentheses group multiple terms and Boolean phrases
e.g. (cats OR kittens) AND (dogs OR puppies)

Truncation / Wildcards
Databases may use different symbols to truncate different search terms or to replace characters. These symbols may vary from database to database. The most common ones are:
Unlimited *               Any number of characters at the end of a word or in the middle
                               e.g. laugh* retrieves laugh, laughs, laughter, etc.
                               col*r retrieves color OR colour
One character ?        e.g. te?t retrieves test OR text
 

 

   
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