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ENG 101: Using Databases to Find Scholarly Articles

A Library Guide in support of Introductory Writing Courses at Wor-Wic

Using Databases to Find Scholarly Articles

Step 1: Select The Most Appropriate Database For Your Search          

Guess what? Wor-Wic has over 100 databases from which to choose. These databases are organized both by Subject and by Title. Multi-subject databases such as Academic Search Premier and ProQuest Central are great places to start if you are not quite sure in which database to begin. But if you are searching for articles related to a specific subject area -- like Business, Medicine, or Education -- then certainly check those as well.


Step 2: Enhance your Search by Using Keywords

Keywords are just that… words that help in your search for sources related to your topic. In most sentences describing your topic, the keywords are easy to spot. But if you find yourself having difficulty locating your keywords, get a sheet of paper and do the following exercise.


Step 1: Write down your topic as a single sentence (as if you were describing it to a friend).

Step 2: Now from that sentence, pull out the (3-5) most important words (or phrases). These are your keywords.


Once you have your keywords, you can use them in the search boxes of your database to help you locate articles most relevant to your topic. Most databases employ a Boolean search process, and including the words AND, OR, and NOT in combination with your Keywords can broaden or narrow your search results. 


Note: Sometimes your keywords may be less than useful in finding sources. Particularly if the keywords are very broad (e.g. 'healthcare') and generate too many sources, or too specific (e.g. 'healthcare for Wor-Wic students) and generate few, if any sources). In either case it’s important to be able to expand or narrow the scope of your keywords, that is, to be able to connect them to larger or smaller ideas or concepts.

For example: If your initial topic was about How JUUL markets it products to minors, your initial keywords might be: JUUL, marketing, minors. But ‘JUUL’ is probably too specific a term; it is unlikely that you will find articles written solely about this particular brand. So you likely need to broaden the term to a larger concept like ‘vaping’ or ‘e-cigarettes’. Likewise, ‘marketing’ and ‘minors’ are very broad search topics, narrowing them to ‘teenage' and 'advertising’ might be useful. So from the original keywords of 'JUUL, marketing, minors' you now have 'vaping, teen, advertising' -- which might produce better results. Remember: whatever keywords you generate from your topic, you should always think of a few broader (or narrower) alternatives just in case you need them to help with your search.


Step 3: Manage Your Results

For many students, the first attempt at using a database produces an enormous amount of results to sift through. Keep in mind that most databases have ways to limit their search results (these are sometimes described as 'filters'). Common filters allow researchers to limit their search results: to articles published within a certain timeframe (e.g. 2010-2020); to articles that have been 'peer-reviewed' (i.e. scholarly); and to articles available in 'Full Text' (meaning, the entire article is accessible for downloading and/or printing). By using filters, students can greatly reduce their number of relevant search results.