What's a Database? 

Databases are online banks of journals articles, conferences proceedings, and occasionally multi-media items spanning the decades. They are peer-reviewed (meaning that the articles are reviewed by scholars in the field prior to publication, quite unlike magazine articles) and are written for professors and researchers. Databases are topical - there are religion databases, education databases, chemistry databases, etc. 

Database Searching Strategies 

Database searching can be an intimidating task.  With a few simple strategies, however, you can mine databases and find very specific information.  This page shows you some of these strategies.

Advanced and Boolean Search Strategies

Most databases and the library catalog have an advanced search function that allows you to search multiple fields.  Notice the drop down menus highlighted in red - you can specify author, title, subject. etc.  Many databases allow you search by journal or ISSN number.

Boolean search operators are used in all databases, allowing you to combine and omit search keywords. You  'string' together a search using AND, OR, and NOT (a.k.a. Boolean searching) - notice the drop down menus highlighted in black.  

You can also limit the search by year if your initial search yields too many results.  Notice the yellow box in the screenshot - the library catalog allows you to specify year of publication.  This feature is found in most databases, though it may look different.  
So what's the difference between AND, OR, and NOT search operators?
"Cold War" AND "Ronald Reagan" searches for all articles that mention both Ronald Reagan and the Cold War.  The AND operator searches the overlap between two search terms.  This is a good way to narrow down a search. "Cold War" OR "Anti-Communism" searches for all occurrences of either Cold War or anti-communism.  The OR search operator is much broader than the AND search operator and is a good way to search synonyms and related words. "Cold War" NOT "Jimmy Carter" searches for all articles that mention the Cold War, but do not make reference to Jimmy Carter. The NOT search operator is good way to sift through irrelevant terms. 

Searching Variations of Words

Truncation Symbol (*)
Put the asterisk after last common letter in a word stem
(ex. educ* to search educational, educate, educator, etc.)
to search all variations.
What results would you retrieve if you search for bio*?
What results would you retrieve if you search for program*?
Wild Card Symbol (!)
Replace letters with exclamation points to search alternate 
spellings and plural forms of word (ex. organi!ation searches
organisation (UK spelling) or organization.
What results would you retrieve if you search for labo!r?
What results would you retrieve if you search for wom!n?

Nesting and Phrase Searching

Put search words in quotation marks to find phrases  Using quotation marks ensures that results include certain phrases, not just random occurrences of words.   Example:  Searching "no child left behind" in quotation marks retrieves results that ONLY mention this phrase in the exact sequence.
Use parentheses for 'nested' searching to string together related terms in an advanced search. Example: Searching (charismatic OR pentecostal) and theology finds all occurrences of 'charismatic theology' or 'pentecostal theology'.







Proximity Search Operators 

Proximity search operators look for occurrences of key words with close proximity. Example: terrorism near1 Taliban  

This searches for articles that mention terrorism and Taliban with no more than one word between these keywords.  An article than containing the sentence, "The Taliban supports terrorism throughout the Middle East".  

Some databases allow for searching adjacent terms with the ADJ operator or the WITH operator.  Some examples would be: war WITH1 terrorism to search for 'war on terrorism' or college adj3 online would search for all occurrences of college and online within three words.  With both the ADJ and WITH operators, order matters.  These search operators do not allow you to find words appearing in reverse order from how they were typed in the database (ex. college adj3 online would not find articles that mention 'online' before 'college'.).

Getting Started with Database Research

To see a complete list of databases, please click here.