Tip #1 What kind of database?

It's a good idea to have a general idea of what kind of database you're searching: what kind of information does it contain, how large is it, who produces it. You can read the database description (see video Choosing a database at Choose the right database) if you're not sure.

Tip #2 Be more specific with your search terms in a database than in a library catalogue

For example: In a database, a search for wine might return thousands of results. You would need to make your search more specific by using additional search terms or using a subject search.

A database usually searches the citation and abstract for your search terms. The returned results will contain your search terms, but often in the wrong context. This is less likely to happen if you use additional search terms or a subject search. Some databases search the fulltext of the document for your search terms- this increases the chances of irrelevant results.


Tip #3 Look for the limits

There are many ways to refine your results in databases. Common options include limiting to

  • a data range
  • peer reviewed
  • full text

Subject specific databases may give you further filters depending on the discipline. When using a database, look for “search options” “refine search” or “search limits” to discover what’s available. See more about limits at 3.2.1 Too many results?.

Tip # 4 Look for intelligent search features

Increasingly, search enhancements in databases are “intelligent” in that a database takes your search words and makes automated inferences from them. You would probably be familiar with this from searching Google.

Intelligent features in databases often means that you are presented with suggestions for subject headings after you run your initial search, or only presented with limiting options that will work successfully within your search returns. As search technology improves, further enhancements will evolve to make searching more intuitive.

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