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Going Beyond Google

How to Find Information Like A Research Pro, including the use of research databases, and Boolean logic

Know Your Tools: Research Databases

Research databases differ from web search engines in several key respects. The most important is that they all use a controlled vocabulary and that the terminology of the controlled vocabulary is exposed as part of the search results. A more thorough comparison of research databases to web search engines can be found at the following link:

One significant drawback in using research databases is that each one is different. Each one has its own look and feel, its own controlled vocabulary, its own way of doing things.

Why Use a Research Database Instead of Google or Google Scholar?

Despite their learning curve, there are a number of compelling reasons for using a research database rather than Google or Google Scholar.

  • Research databases use controlled vocabulary to optimize both precision and recall.
    • This allows you to zero in on exactly those research papers you need without having to wade through countless irrelevant results or miss essential papers because you didn't choose the right keywords.
  • Research databases are often specialized, focusing on a particular topic or area of study.
    • This helps by removing a large number of irrelevant, off-topic results and focusing your search only in the areas of study that you're interested in.
  • Because of the subject specialization, the controlled vocabulary is usually highly specialized to reflect the needs of the particular area of study.
    • For example, in a psychology or medical database, you can specifically limit your search to studies or clinical trials concerning a particular population group or age group.
  • Research databases carefully evaluate the resources they index to ensure that they are of the highest quality.

Finding The Right Database

Because research databases are often subject specific, it can be difficult for even experienced researchers to find the best database to search for any particular topic. To take some of the guesswork out of choosing the right database, the subject specialists at Galvin Library have put together lists of the most relevant research databases for each area of study at Illinois Tech. That list can be accessed here: