Using Databases

Strategies for Bibliographic Searching

Why Use Databases?

  • They provide a vast amount of print and web resources.
  • They give you resources related to those you already have.
  • They save time in researching.
  • They provide higher quality resources than typical search engines.

General Tips

  • Use keywords, not long phrases.
  • Use the thesaurus to vary the vocabulary of your keywords (this is especially helpful if your database provides an online thesaurus).
  • Remember that the database is only searching the index, not the entire article (it's not Google!).
  • Check your spelling and mechanics carefully.


When you already have a book or article that you find helpful, you may use the specific-to-general approach to find other similar resources. This method is extremely helpful in expanding your search, but you must be careful to know when to stop the search process because you may get stuck in an endless cycle (Dalrymple 112). Follow these steps:

  • Locate your book/article in the database using the author or title.
  • Write down the subject terms assigned to your resource.
  • Use these subject terms in your next search to find related articles.


When you only know your topic, you will need to start with a keyword search to locate your resources. It's important to gain a logical overview of the concepts and vocabulary of your topic (Dalrymple 112). Follow these steps:

  • Consult your database's thesaurus if one is available. It will often be organized by broad topics, which branch into more specific terms. By using the thesaurus, you will become familiar with the keywords you should search.
  • If the database does not provide a thesaurus, you should try various terms to broaden your search. A standard thesaurus will still be helpful in this task.
  • As you examine resources, check the cross-references and "see also" references.
  • Once you find a few helpful resources, you may continue the search process using the Specific-to-General approach.

Works Cited

Dalrymple, Prudence W. and Linda C. Smith. "Organization of Information and Search

Strategies." Reference and Information Services: an Introduction. Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1995. Print.