ENGL 102
Writing and Research
Home Page >> Information Sheet >>Databases

Databases are a collection of information that has been gathered together and organized according to specific criteria. Any searchable list of information is a sort of database, but the form of database that we are concerned with for this class is the Periodical Database. This is a listing of articles that have been published in various periodicals – magazines, journals, newspapers, etc. – and their publishing and content information.

Not all databases are the same. Some databases, like the New York Times Archives, focus only on the content of one periodical. Some databases focus only on certain types of articles, like newspaper articles, articles readable by junior high and high school students, medical articles, articles published in a certain country or in a certain language, etc. Some databases only list what articles have been published. Other databases include the full text of the articles as well.

For college level or professional research, the researcher should use a database that focuses on listing articles from academic and professional sources. The databases available for free on the Internet or at a local public library may not index the right kind of sources. Non full-text databases point you towards good information as well, but you then need to find the article at an academic library or order it through Inter-Library Loan. This will add some time to the research process, so plan ahead if using non-full-text databases.

Searching the Database:

This image shows some of the most important features of this academic database:
search interface

  1. The Find terms used should be specific and focused. The computer will only accept exact matches, so make sure that your spelling is correct.

  2. This particular database lets you choose WHERE to search for your term using the “as” selection. The choices in this database are: Smart Search, Keyword, Subject, Title, Author, Journal/Source, ISSN/ISBN, etc. Each of these options will get back different results.

    A researcher generally gets the best results from the “Subject” search, since a match in “subject” should find articles specifically about the topic, rather than articles that just mention or include the topic.
    However, when FIRST searching, the “Smart Search” setting will get the most results to begin sifting through.
          Searching for Death Penalty in “Smart Search” gets 497 matches,
                                                     in “Keyword” gets 861 matches,
                                                     in “Subject” gets 15 matches,
                                               and in “Title” gets 249 matches.

  3. The “and/or/not” option and the second (and third) search box allows you to make more specific searches.
          “and” tells the search engine that BOTH search terms should be in the results.
          The “or” search looks for EITHER of the terms
          “Not” tells the database to ignore any match that also includes the second term.

  4. Limit to: allows the researcher to control what results are listed. If your instructor has told you to only use academic sources, then limiting to Peer Reviewed can be a helpful option. However, for preliminary research, you may want some non-Peer Reviewed sources for your own knowledge and background.

    Full Text, when checked, will only return results that can be printed out. These are the words from the article, but usually not the graphs, images or anything else that may be visual. These files need to be cited as database articles since you don’t know the original page numbers.

    Page Image (PDF) limits the results to articles that are presented as they were originally printed, not just as text.

    Peer Reviewed is an important distinction that only shows results from academic journals, ignoring articles from general magazines, newspapers, etc.

  5. Subject Area allows the results to be limited to articles from areas like Business, Social Sciences, Education, etc.

  6. Document Type has many options limiting the results to categories like Obituaries, Autobiographies, Poetry, Book Reviews, Feature Articles, Interviews, etc. For beginning research, most students will not need to use this option.

  7. Limit Dates To: is an important function for many researchers. The information used for an academic paper should be as new as possible. Most Science disciplines require that sources be no more than 5 years old, and the newer the better.

Search Results:

Once the reasearcher has submitted the search, the results come back in a format similar to this:
search results
These listings tell you

The researcher should use this information to determine which articles meet their research criteria (how recent the information is, whether it’s an academic journal, etc).

Getting the Articles:

Clicking on the title brings up a results page that tells more information about the articles, including an abstract of the contents.
The abstract is very helpful to determine if the contents will be useful for the researcher’s paper/project. If the abstract doesn’t fit what is being looked for, there’s no reason to pull up the entire article.

full text symbolthis symbol tells you that it’s available as full-text. Remember that full-text is just the words, and that you will have to cite this as a database source, since you won’t know what information is from what page of the original source. Simply click on this symbol to see the article’s text.

adobe symbolthis symbol tells you that the article is available as a PDF file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read it, but most computers have this program already installed. PDF files are larger than text files, so they will take longer to download and print than text files. I recommend that you always read the article as full-text first, then, if it’s one that you decide to use for your paper, download and print the PDF version.

In addition, the WilsonWeb Omnifile database gives Subject Terms. These are the terms that WilsonWeb uses as subjects when indexing the article. Many times, especially if the article has been found using “Smart Search,” the Subject terms can show additional terms to use for more detailed searches.
subject keywords
In this example, the Subject terms tell us that we should be searching under “Capital Punishment” as well as “Death Penalty.” In WilsonWeb, each Subject term can be clicked to create a new search.

Click the checkbox next to the number of any article that appears to meet your needs. Once you’ve looked over the results from the first page, use the arrows on the bottom of the page to move to the next page of results.
bottom arrows
Once you’ve reached the end of your results, click on the box labeled “Get Marked,” and you will be shown a page that only contains the articles that you’ve selected.

Then you can use the Print Email Save button on the far left side of the screen to either Print, Email or Save the selected articles.