Subject Guides

BIOL 113 Class Guide

Introduction to Database Searching

Library databases are online indexes where you can search for scholarly articles and publications. Each library database tend to focus on particular subject areas and can have broader or more specific scopes.

Because the information in library databases are thoughtfully-selected materials that are scholarly, academic, and subject-specific, searching in these databases can be much more effective than searching in a large search engine like Google or Google Scholar. Below are some tips of how to conduct effective searches in databases. 


Database Searching Quick Tips

1. Find the right database: You can always search for databases using the "Find It!" search box on the libraries' homepage. However, going to the subject guides to find subject-specific databases will ensure that you are searching in databases that will fit your topic's scope.


2. Create a search strategy: Before beginning your search, think about a couple of keywords on your topic. What are the main concepts? What do you want to make sure comes up in your search results? Once you have these keywords picked out, the next step is to think of synonyms for your keywords. Using a chart like the one below can be useful when crafting your strategy:


3. Search using "Database" language: When searching in databases, the terms and, or, and not (also referred to as Boolean operators) can be used to make your searches much more effective. Using these words, as well as a couple of other search tools, will help you get search results that better match your research topic. The chart below explains these terms and what they do in more detail:


4. Use limiters to narrow down searches: Databases will usually have multiple limiters that you can use to narrow down your search and show you search results that are more specific to your research needs. These limiters (such as publication date range, journal title, publication type, etc.) can usually be found in a bar on the left-hand side of the database after you've run your first search, or in the "advanced search" section.


5. Check to see if we have access to the article: Once you have found an article that you want to use, the next step is to see if we have access to it. If you see a button that looks like this: , clicking on it will usually lead you directly to a PDF copy of the article that you can download. Otherwise, look for the  button somewhere on the article's page. Clicking on this button will take you through the Binghamton Libraries' site where you will be able to see if we have access to the article. If we do not have access, you can always request the article through Interlibrary Loan.


6. Search in multiple databases: Each database has a unique collection of publications and different limiters that you can use. It's always a good idea to try searching for research in multiple databases. While one database may have only had a couple of articles on your topic, another my have dozens!


7. Lastly, Stick with it! Searching for research is not always quick or easy, and that's normal. If you are struggling to find the research that you need, try some of the strategies listed below in the FAQs section. You can also always ask a librarian for help!


Database Searching FAQs

What are library databases?

Library databases are online indexes where you can search for scholarly articles and publications. Each library database tend to focus on particular subject areas and can have broader or more specific scopes.


How do library databases differ from each other?

One of the biggest ways that library databases differ from each other is the type of content that they have within them. Each database has its own unique collection of articles and publications that can be searched through and each database tends to have particular subject areas of focus. 

Library databases also differ in how they let you search through their content. For example, the database Web of Science may have different limiters that you can use to narrow down your search than the database PsycINFO.


How do I decide what database to search?

Databases tend be organized roughly based on subject and so the first step is to find a database that will have articles that are relevant to the subject area of your topic. For psychology, the databases that are good to start off with are PsycINFO, PsycArticles, Web of Science, and PubMed.


Some of the publications that are showing up in my search results are not articles. What's the difference between articles and these other types of sources?

The most common type of publications that will show up in databases are empirical articles. However, reviews, conference proceedings, and book chapters may also appear as well. The chart below briefly goes over the differences between these different types of publications:


I've been searching for hours and I can't find anything on my topic! What should I do?

This can be tough and frustrating! There are several options if you find yourself getting stuck on a topic:

  1. Breakdown your topic into keywords or key phrases. For more information on how to do this, visit the “Search Strategies” section of our How to do Library Research Page.
  2. Try different combinations of keywords. Think of any synonyms of the keywords you selected, especially synonyms that may be more often used in your field. For example, if you are trying to search using the word “happiness”, you can also try searching using the terms “self-fulfillment” or “well-being” or “life satisfaction.”
  3. Try searching in a different database. Each database is unique, so searching in multiple is always a good idea to try to find as many articles as possible.
  4. Try citation chaining. Have you only found one article that seems to fit your topic, but you need more? Try looking at the citations of that article to find others that might also be relevant to your topic!
  5. Ask for help! If you're stuck, you can always ask a librarian, or contact the subject librarian for your subject area directly.