This video demonstrates how to do a basic search in a library database and narrow down the results using specific database features.

Video Transcript:

This video will show you how to do a basic search in a library database and narrow down your results using specific database features.

Through the library, you have access hundreds of databases covering a variety of subject areas. Each database contains different types of information sources including scholarly journal articles, e-books, dissertations, newspaper articles, streaming videos, and more. When researching a topic, you should look in library databases to help you find quality information.

Once you have logged into a library database, you can start searching. In this example, I have logged into the database called ProQuest Central, which is one of the library’s largest full-text multidisciplinary databases. While databases that are provided by different vendors may not all look the same, remember that much of their functionality is often very similar.

In this example, let’s pretend that we are looking for articles on the death penalty.  I can type the phrase “death penalty” in the search box.  Notice that I put this search term in quotes to keep the words of the phrase together. Before clicking on “search,” I have the option to limit my results to only those with links to the full text of the article, are peer-reviewed, and are considered scholarly. If these options are available in the database that you are using, please use them cautiously. By limiting to full text, I will get immediate results to full text articles, but I might be missing out on other important articles that could be available in a different database. If you professor wants you to find scholarly and/or peer-reviewed articles, then you’ll definitely want to select those limit options.

At this point, I will keep this search form fairly sparse because I don’t want to risk making it too specific and end up not finding enough results. Instead, I will click on “search” to see what results I get. Then, I can limit further if needed.

On the results page, I see that I have found over 1100 results, so now is the time that I would want to narrow further. I can do this by either adding another search term or I can use the panel on the side. If I use the panel, I might opt to specify a date range. Since information can change over time, it’s a good idea to look for recent articles, so I’ll set the timeline to show articles only from the last five years.

This reduces the number of results found to about 350, which is still too many. Returning to the panel, I can limit further by selecting any of these options. For example, if I click on “Subject,” I can see a breakdown of the article’s main content. In this example, 38 of the 350 results relate to Supreme Court decisions. If that’s the type of information that I am looking for, I could click on that link to only view those articles.

Another way that I can narrow or broaden the number of results that I find is to add search terms using Boolean operators. To do this, click on “modify search.”

Boolean operators connect your keywords. The most common are AND, OR, and NOT. AND will help narrow your results by searching for results that contain both of your keywords.  OR will broaden your results by searching for results that contain either one term or the other, but not necessarily both and is useful for keyword synonyms. (Hint: Or means you’ll get MORE results.) NOT is useful when you want to exclude a specific term from the results list.

Returning to our example, let’s continue to look for articles about the “death penalty” OR the related term “capital punishment.” OR is helpful to use when you are not finding enough information. Conversely, if we wanted to find an article specifically relating to inequality, we could try adding AND inequality to our search terms to find articles that discuss either the death penalty and inequality or capital punishment and inequality. Notice that the number of results has decreased.

It’s important to remember that you may need to break you topic into chunks and search for information on each piece separately if you cannot find articles that address every aspect of your topic. Also, it is a good idea to use more than one database when searching for information. This will help you make sure that you are doing a comprehensive search on your topic.

This concludes our video on how to start a general search for articles in a library database. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask a librarian!