How to Search Academic Databases | Research Skills | The Nature of Writing

How to Search Academic Databases | Research Skills | The Nature of Writing


When you’re doing academic research you often end up using the databases that are available through your institution’s
library. In this video I just want to give you a few tips and examples of how
you can search those databases effectively. In this example we’ll use
the MLA database, but you should be able to take these ideas and transpose them
and apply them to different databases as well. When I search a database, one of the first things I like to do is to just do a very general search first and
that way I can kind of see what’s out there, and then we can start refining it.
So let’s say that we’re working on William Shakespeare and we’re dealing
with the play Much Ado About Nothing … I’m going to put the title in here and then I’m going to put quotation marks around it. What
that does is it’s going to search for the entire phrase rather than the
disconnected words. Okay, so we have a couple of things here — let’s just do a
quick search and let’s see what comes up. [We have] 462 results, so that’s quite a lot, and we probably want to refine this further. Let’s go back then to our search. We’ll
do an advanced search here and now we’re going to do a little bit of refining. One
thing you can do is you can select different fields, and there are lots of
options here but one that’s quite useful is if you click on a subject. So if we
scroll down we click on “subject,” and you’ll see in a minute what that’s
actually going to search. You can also search for the phrase in the title, if
you really want to refine it, or in different things as well. Underneath here
you have lots of different options, so for instance if we want to search just
for a particular date range we could do that. Let’s search for 1990 to 2018. Now let’s just click 2018. We can change what publication type we want. The period is maybe not as relevant. That’s when the article or the the book was written. You
can click on full text, and full text is great if you’re procrastinating and at
the last minute you only want things that you can access right away. But do be aware that when you search these kinds of databases they
often don’t have the full-text of everything. They are simply indexing the different things that are out there, and just
because the database doesn’t have the full-text doesn’t mean that you can get
it through your library. So I wouldn’t necessarily click on full-text, but will
do this here just as an example. Okay, and let’s do a search, and there we go! Now we just have 32 results, so we’ve been able to really narrow it down, and you can see
that in the subjects area here these are like keywords basically. You can see that
much ado about nothing shows up and that’s why it helped to put the
subject as a field. Alright, let’s go back again, and we’re going to do a
slightly different search. Let’s say that we have a few key terms that we want to
use. So we have a few key terms and maybe on the topic sheet from your instructor
for your essay you notice some of these terms. Well, you probably want to put
them in. Maybe you’re writing an essay about comedy, so there we go,
and notice that it gives you some suggestions here. So what this does by —
putting “or” here in between these suggestions t’s going to treat them as
synonyms. It’s basically saying we’re going to search for all of
these terms and, if one isn’t in there, if the other one is it’s still going to show
up. This is a little bit different than if you use for instance these other
options here. You can also use these — these are called boolean operators …
basically they allow you to exclude things. They allow you to create choice. The results will be a little bit different if you use this kind of
“or” as opposed to the “or” within a search box. Alright, so we have these different
options now, and let’s just do the search first of all. Let’s see what comes
up. Okay, 327 results so that’s still quite a bit. Notice that when you look at
the subjects area, the word “comedy” keeps coming up here. You can see that. Both of these first two results have the word “comedy.” And what’s happening here I think is that because the play is a comedy as a genre, this term is going to
come up all the time, even if the article isn’t really about humor. What we might
want to do, then, is simply take this term out and we’re also just going to add a
different spelling of “humor” here, although I don’t think it’ll make a
difference in this example. But do be aware of spelling. So we’re going to change this up a little bit, and now if we search again … let’s see here … now we have just five results. That really limited it, and we can see the difference then
between these searches. As we scroll down here you’ll notice that there’s an
article on Dogberry — that’s one of the characters in the play and Dogberry is a very funny character. So when we look at these different titles and
these different subject areas, we should see them as inspiration for future
searches. We could, for instance, just do a search for Dogberry and see what that
brings up, and now we have eight results, so slightly different results, but
searching is all about just fooling around with the search terms. It’s trial
and error, and eventually you tend to find what you’re looking for. Okay, let’s
do another search this time, and we’re going to get some different results here. I’m going to search for Hamlet. I’m just going to reset this to any field, and in this case
we’re going to add a different search term here (feminism) but I’m not going to finish
it. I’m going to add this asterisk here, and this is what’s called truncation, which
is where it’s going to look now for all of these different endings: feminism,
feminist, femininity. I’m leaving the last bit open in terms of how it’s
going to finish this word. So that’s a really cool feature. Let’s
see what comes up: 61 results. Now, let’s actually try this “not” boolean operator,
and we’re going to add Ophelia here, who is one of the characters. Not sure
why you’d want to exclude her from your search, but let’s pretend that you do. And
we can do this [search] again. Now it’s only 37, and so we have excluded a bunch of
results. I’m going to leave you with a couple of final tips as you do these
searches. One of the cool things you can do is if you click, for instance, on this
particular source, you can actually search within a specific journal. So you
find the journal, you click on it, and then it’s going to bring this up in your
text box. Notice that you could also just type it in yourself: JN with quotation
marks around the journal title. And then you can search within all the issues of
this journal. So we can look for Hamlet, and what we’re going to see now is that
there are 29 results in terms of articles that are specifically from this
journal on this topic. Last thing I’ll mention is if you click on the source
itself you have a whole bunch of options. My
library provides a “where can I find this?” link, so even if there’s no PDF of it, or
no way to read it on the screen, I may still be able to get it through the
library. And then on the right side I have other options as well. The most
important one here is “cite.” What that does is it gives you a whole bunch of
citation options here, so you can just copy and paste these into your essay. And
then you do have to do a little bit of formatting, because they’re not
necessarily perfectly formatted. One of the key things to watch out for is that
you tend to have straight quotation marks instead of those beautiful curved
quotation marks. Okay, that’s it for searching databases effectively.
hopefully found this useful!

Daniel Ostrander

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