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History: Searching databases

What is a database and why are they important?

Databases can be collections of things. In an academic environment we are talking about collections of research. They may be lists of books in a library catalogue or the actual book in electronic form.

They are mainly listings of journal articles which often link to the fulltext of articles. They usually provide the latest research findings in a particular discipline.

It is possible to stumble across some of this material when you do a Google search however you will never be sure if the sources are suitable for academic work.

Databases are discipline based reflecting the subject areas they include, so a student can be more confident of locating relevant references which are peer reviewed and suitable for discussion in an academic environment.

Searching a database by a topic is a more strategic approach, particularly for undergraduate students.

Locating the sources

Once you have found relevant material in a database you will need to find the best way to access it.

If there is not a direct link, the following buttons will help identify whether the resource is available online.

  Check for full text buttonFind a copy

If the resource is not available from the Library there will be a link allowing you to request it from another library. (This is only available to staff and postgraduates)

Steps for effective database searching

Getting started searching

Try to be as specific as possible in your initial searches. Put all of your search terms in. This might mean that you get very few results. Browse and read the abstract or first couple of pages of a few of the resulting articles to learn more about the topic and an author's interpretation. If this is the direction you wish to follow, look for related articles. If you want to take a different path, edit the search terms and repeat the process.

Think about your search terms

Sometimes the words used for a modern topic are not the words used at the time your research is set. So you need to think about how you are going to search. An example of this is the term 'gender' which would not be found with its current meaning in most historical texts and commentaries.

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