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Research Databases

Research databases do not work like Google or other web-based search tools. This guide will help you get the best results from the library's research databases.


While no two research databases work exactly the same, many of them have certain features in common. Most of these tips will work on most research databases.

Research Databases vs. Search Engines

Databases Search Method Google Search Method

Can I search databases the same way I search Google? The answer is NO! We use the keyword search method to search databases.

While Google searches anywhere within the searchable parts of the document for the words you type, research databases use keywords. Think of keywords as tags: words or phrases provided by the authors of the papers or the publisher of the database that explain what the article is about. In information science, a publisher-provided list of keywords is called a controlled vocabulary.

All searches start with at least one keyword, whether it's a simple one word search or a complex search involving multiple concepts. Our guide Going Beyond Google provides a more detailed explanation of how databases work and how they differ from search engines like Google.

Have a Search Strategy

This section will show you how to search more effectively. The different tabs are:

  • How a Database Thinks: Why your searches sometimes fail
  • AND / OR / NOT: What these connectors mean to your searches
  • Filters: How to limit results to by content type, full-text, etc.
  • Truncation and Phrases: Changing search terms to broaden or narrow your results
  • Subject Terms: Find the most accurate terms that will work with most databases
  • Advanced Features: Language translation, citations, saving your searches, etc.

HELP: The Most Important Button in any Database

Database providers understand that there's a steep learning curve to using their products and that every database looks and works different from every other. Because of this they take great care in developing their help screens. If a database isn't doing what you expect or if you're trying to figure out a better way of interacting with it, open the help screen!