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What is a Scholarly Article and How Do I Find One?

How to Use Databases

Much of the research you do throughout your university education will involve databases. Therefore it is a good idea to understand what a database is and how they work. A database is a computerized and structured set of data that can be manipulated and searched. Here is a diagram explaining the structure of many academic databases:

How do you actually go about searching a database? First you will need to have an idea of what to search for. Do you have a topic, general concept, or just a vague idea? Often it helps to write out and pull words from your research question. For example perhaps you want to learn more about video games and their link to violent behavior. 

Notice that in the above example that keywords and synonyms are important. You will not type in your whole question into the database. Rather you will pull important terms or concepts from your question. Furthermore, rarely will your first search retrieve the exact results you need. Modify your search as you go. If you are having trouble thinking of synonyms then look at the search results to try and find more relevant or more accurate keywords from the database. 

Your search results will look something like this:


Still need help? Talk to a librarian. See the "More Ways to Ask Us" box on the left of this page. 

Below are some tips and tricks for using databases:

  1. Too many or too few search results? Use AND between words to narrow your search. Use OR to broaden your search. Many databases will have a function letting you choose these terms from a menu. If not you can type them in to your search. 
  2. Quotation marks around a phrase will search for that exact phrase. If you just type in global warming as keywords, the database will search for both of these words separately. In other words any thing that has global AND warming. However if you use quotation marks and type in "global warming" the database will search for those words next to each other as a phrase. Phrase searching will return more relevant results. 
  3. Make full use of limiters (see below). Each database is different but in general databases will have some variation of the following limiters. Select "Full Text" to see currently available items. If Full Text is not selected you may need to use Interlibrary Services. Update the year for more current research.                         
  4. Many databases have the below tools. You can usually email yourself a copy of the article or record, save full text articles, send yourself the permanent link and/or use the citation provided by the database. Make sure to double check the citation as they are computer generated and may have mistakes. 


There are many databases to choose from. Below are some options to get you started. 

Meriam Library | CSU, Chico