Searching Research Databases

Searching Principles

Condense: Boil your search topic down to a few words or phrases. Natural language search queries don't work well in research databases. For example, entering "effects of e-mail on personal relationships" in a research database will not retrieve useful material. Rather, identify the key concepts and use those words or phrases. For example, "e-mail" and "relationships" are the key concepts in the above example.

SocAbs e-mail Relationships Search

Fields: Fields are important because they provide the ability to do focused and directed searches. Every record in a research database has a number of fields that allow the searcher to look for a word or phrase in a certain field. Narrowing your search to one field will retrieve fewer sources, but those sources will be more relevant. For example, looking for "e-mail" only in the title field will eliminate those records that merely mention the word e-mail somewhere in the abstract field.

Database Search

Subjects: The subject field is the most important field - get to know how it works. Every record is assigned subjects (sometimes referred to as descriptors). These subjects are created by real humans who are subject specialists and describe the content of the article. When performing a subject search, you can be confident that you have found every record that deals with subject, regardless of how the author expressed the subject. For example, subjects assigned to articles that deal with "relationships" are interpersonal communication, and interpersonal relations.

Database Search Results

A search using appropriate subjects might look something like this.

SocAbs Interpersonal Relations Search

Clues: Look for clues in retrieved records. As you retrieve useful records, always examine them carefully, especially the subject field, for other words or phrases that might help you locate other useful sources.