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Using Databases

Electronic databases can help you find magazine, journal, and newspaper articles and other published information sources. The IUB Libraries subscribe to hundreds of databases. The databases may differ in the way that the screen looks or the type of information they store but essentially they all work on the same principles. Once you understand how databases work, you will be able to use almost any database. A database is a collection of records, stored on a computer, with information about different items. In library databases, these records represent information about books, book chapters, newspapers or magazine articles. When searching a database, it is helps to understand how a database is structured:

The words you tell the computer to look for have to match with the words used in the field. If the word in the subject field is "adolescent" and you use "youth" or "teenager" your search won't retrieve that record even though the terms are similar. The records of a database are divided into these fields to allow the user to conduct specific searches. For example, if you know the author of an article but don't remember the title, you can do an author search that will retrieve all records that list that author's name in the author field.

Using a database to find information on a specific subject: When you search for information by subject, only the subject field (sometimes called descriptor or subject heading) of a record will be searched for the words you type into the database. You are searching for specific words, that the people who created the database have assigned to the record to best describe the article (or book, video, etc.).
It is necessary to know the exact terms that have been used for the subject search to work. If you type "teen pregnancy" as your subject search you may not get any results. The most commonly used words to describe that subject are "teenage pregnancy".


Keyword Searching: Searching for information by keyword permits greater flexibility. You do not need to know authors or subject headings to perform a keyword search. When you search by keyword, every field will be searched for the term(s) you have entered. However, this type of searching will also generally return more records, as well as some records that are not relevant to your topic.

Keyword searching allows you to combine terms and concepts to retrieve records for the most relevant articles, books, videos etc. You can combine terms using Boolean Operators and Nesting.

Boolean Operators can be used to combine words or terms when you search, to make a better defined search. See the examples below.

AND
Example: teenage pregnancy AND prevention will retrieve records that contain both the word teenager as well as the word prevention.
OR
Example: adolescent OR teen will retrieve records that contain either the word adolescent or the word teen or both of the words.
NOT
Example: prevention NOT abortion will retrieve records that contain the word prevention only if the word abortion is not in the record.

Nesting is the use of parenthesis to put your keywords into sets. It preserves the "logic" of your keyword search.
Example: pregnancy and (adolescent or teen)
This keyword search will retrieve records that contain the word pregnancy and the record must also contain either the word adolescent or the word teen or both of these words. Nesting is often used when search terms have similar meanings.

Truncation is used to find different forms of words in a keyword search. IUCAT, the IU Library catalog, uses the question mark "?" as the truncation symbol. Another commonly used truncation symbol is the asterisk *. The "help" function in the database usually tells you which symbol to use. Example: teen? Will retrieve records that include the word teen, teens, teenager, teenage, teenagers.

Stopwords are commonly used words that will automatically stop a computer keyword search because they occur too frequently in records. Stopwords are usually listed in the help screens of the database you are using. When constructing a keyword search, choose the most important words.
Example: If you want to find information about "What programs are there to prevent teenage pregnancy in the United States?"
Your keywords are: programs, prevent, teenage, pregnancy and United States.
The words: what, are, there, to, in, and the are not key words.

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