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Research 101: Navigating Databases

A guide on how to conduct academic research.

Navigating Databases

If you have already searched within some of the databases, you probably noticed they function a lot differently from search engines like Google or Yahoo.

The key to navigating databases is to apply certain search techniques that respond well with databases.

Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann under a Creative Commons license

Keywords vs. Subject Terms

There are a few ways in which you can perform a search in databases.  Two of which are through the use of either keywords or subject terms.

Keywords are general words you may use in any scenario, originating from the user

Subject Terms, also known as subject headings, are words used by indexers and catalogers to describe content.

Boolean Operators and Fields

Boolean Operators

Is an application of database logic, consisting of three operators: AND, OR, and NOT

  • AND - refines a search by looking for the occurrence of multiple search terms in a source
  • OR - expands a search by finding the occurence of one search term or another.
  • NOT -  limits a search by finding one search terms while omitting another.

Searchable Fields

Fields are various elements of a record. These fields include, but are not limited to:

  • document title
  • publication title
  • publication year
  • author(s) name
  • subject heading
  • document text
  • abstract
  • publisher

Phrase Searching

Not all databases process search input the same way; however a majority do incorporate a phrase searching function.  Phrase searching is another technique you can use to narrow your search.

To initiate a phrase search, you must either enclose a search term, phrase, or title with quotation marks or parentheses.

For example: "business management" or (business management)