Database Searching? Why bother?

Mia Morgan, Ed.D., M.L.S.

Why bother? Database searching is an essential skill, that is why. Yes, there are many articles freely available on the web. Yes, the web is somewhat easier to search than the databases. But if a researcher limits the search to only freely available and easily searched items on the web, that researcher will be missing out on important information and will not be getting a full picture of the topic. That would be like looking in a mirror and only seeing half your face.

Database searching does not need to be difficult. The searcher just needs to keep a few things in mind when searching.

First, the words you search are called keywords. When you put multiple words together, that is called a search string.

Second, there is a right way to string words together when searching the databases, and there is a wrong way. The wrong way is to type a whole sentence. The right way is to eliminate little, meaningless words (it to from) and use AND to combine keywords that represent different ideas.
Wrong: how do teachers manage unruly students in the classroom?
Right: teachers AND unruly students
Also right: teachers AND classroom behavior
Also right: classroom management

Which leads to the third point, keywords are actually words that appear in the article. Keywords are the words an author used to write about the topic. Not all authors will use exactly the same words, because often there is more than one way to talk about a topic, such as behavior management, classroom management, unruly students, etc. A good researcher will brainstorm other words that might be used when writing about a topic and will try a few searches using those other words.
Keep your searches simple. Single words or short phrases are a good way to begin. If you need to add a word to narrow your search, use AND before adding that word to the search string.
If you need to eliminate an idea from the results, use NOT before adding that word to the search string.

Finally, remember that in the databases the search engine looks for exactly what you enter, so spelling matters. If you are not sure how to spell a word, or if you want to make sure to get all spelling variations, use an asterisk, *, the truncation symbol at the root of the word to retrieve all word endings.
Such as: teach* to find teach, teacher, teaching, teaches
Happy Searching!

Database Search Tips

1. Brainstorm keywords (a keyword is a word that describes your topic) and synonyms for your keywords
2. Use AND to separate keywords: Grand Canyon AND formed
3. Use NOT to eliminate ideas from the results: Grand Canyon NOT camping
4. Use * (asterisk) to search all word endings: river* returns articles that use the word river, rivers
5. Use quotation marks around phrases “grand canyon”

Frequently Asked Questions about Databases
1. What is a database? A database is a searchable collection of articles from published magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias & other reference books, reports, and research articles.
2. When to use a database? Use a database when you need reliable information for a school project.
3. Can I use the databases to find pictures? Absolutely!
4. Can I use the databases to find information for a science or social studies project? Yes!
5. Does it cost anything to use the databases? No! The databases are free for you to use thanks to the generosity of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners!
6. How do I cite articles and pictures that I use from the databases? I am so glad you are thinking about giving credit to the author and photographer for their work. Each database has citation tools built right in. If you click on citation (or cite this) on a given article or image, you will see the proper way to cite that item.
7. How do I search the databases? Great question. I am glad you asked. Come up with a list of keywords about your topic. Use the keywords to search. Do not enter complete sentences. Separate keywords using AND. For example, if you want to find information about how the grand canyon was formed, your keywords will include: grand canyon, formed. Your search string should look like this: grand canyon AND formed.
It is always a good idea to brainstorm other words to use in case you cannot find exactly what you are looking for. Other words for formed, for example, include created, originated, or developed.