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Researching With Electronic Databases

Choose an appropriate database

For assistance with choosing a database that is appropriate for your topic refer to the list of indexes and databases found under your subject at the "Subject Pages & Guides" Web Page (http://library.albany.edu/subject) or ask a Librarian. Electronic databases are a good source for references to relatively current materials, but the Minerva catalog or a print index may be more suitable to your needs.

Forming a search statement

After choosing a database, your next step is to decide what the most important terms of your search are. For example, if you are looking for material that covers the topic of censorship of the Internet, your search terms would be CENSORSHIP and INTERNET. It is often useful to consult a thesaurus of search terms for your particular topic or database.

Boolean Logic

One effective search strategy involves the use of words AND, OR or NOT. The use of one of these terms in your search statement is called boolean logic.

AND

Separating search terms with the word AND will restrict your search to those items that contain all of the words from your search statement. If you are interested in finding information about cocaine use, specifically as it relates to students, you could type the following search term statement :

Cocaine and students

Here is how the results will look in PsycINFO, the psychology database :

No. Records Request (Explanation)
#1 2153 COCAINE (2153 records were found in Psycinfo that included the word "cocaine.")
#2 42359 STUDENTS (42359 records were found in PsycINFO that included the word "students.")
#3 72 COCAINE AND STUDENTS (72 records were found in PsycINFO that combined the words "cocaine" and students AND narrowed the search.)
OR

Separating search terms with the word OR will provide citations to materials that contain one or more of your keywords. If you are interested in information about school prayer or the separation of church and state, you could type the following search statement :

school prayer or state-church-separation(hyphens are used with descriptors)

Here is how the search results will look in ERIC, the education database

No. Records Request (Explanation)
#1 20 SCHOOL PRAYER (20 records were found in ERIC that included the phrase "school prayer.")
#2 115 STATE-CHURCH-SEPARATION (115 records were found in ERIC with the descriptor "state-church-separation.")
#3 119 SCHOOL PRAYER or STATE-CHURCH-SEPARATION (119 records were found in ERIC that included one or both the phrase "school prayer" or the descriptor "state-church- separation." OR broadened the search.)
NOT

Using the word NOT will eliminate the word that follows it from your search results. NOT should be used with caution since it may remove useful references from your search results. You're doing research on symbolic naming of characters after Shakespeare's Ophelia in Hamlet. You want to find other Ophelias in the literature NOT in Shakespeare's plays, and you type in :

Ophelia NOT Shakespeare

Here is how the results of that search will look in the MLA literature database

No. Records Request (Explanation)
#1 57 OPHELIA (57 records were found in MLA that included the word "Ophelia.")
#2 10,006 SHAKESPEARE (10,006 records were found in MLA that included the word "Shakespeare.")
#3 14 OPHELIA not SHAKESPEARE (14 records were found in MLA that included the word "Ophelia" but not the word "Shakespeare." NOT narrowed the search.)

Truncation

Truncating a search term allows you to search for a word and different forms of that word by typing a symbol at the end of a word stem or a word in its singular form. The characters for truncation vary according to the database that you are using. Consult the guides for the database that you are choosing. Most databases have a help utility which will also provide this information.

If you wanted to search for information about a pediatrician or pediatricians in the medical database, Medline, you would first consult the Medline guide and learn that the character used for truncation in that database is an asterisk(*). That means that if you type pediatrician* in the Medline database, your search results will include all forms of the word pediatrician.

Here is how the results will look in Medline :

No. Records Request (Explanation)
#1 170 PEDIATRICIAN* (170 records were found in Medline that contained extensions of the word "pediatrician," including "pediatricians")

Marking

When you get a list of search results you should scan through them, marking all relevant references. Now when you choose the print or download option, the database will only transfer those entries that you have marked, eliminating all unmarked entries. To learn more about marking, refer to the guide for the database you are searching.

Reading your Printout and Locating your Materials

The parts of your search results that are most important are the title, author, material type (periodical article, book, newspaper article, etc.) date, source, and abstract. Some databases provide the full-text of journal articles, which eliminates the need to find the hardcopy of the journal in the library.


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