Databases: Step-by-Step Guide

Trocaire College Libraries

Start Early!

Give yourself the best chance to succeed by starting your assignments early. The librarians will help you no matter your deadline, but starting early allows you enough time to select just the right materials, use ILL, check your APA or MLA style, etc. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Know your Topic

Many college students have a problem in selecting a topic. Check this guide for some tip.

Once you have selected a topic, the best way to start your research on a topic that may not be familiar to you, use an encyclopedia. Usually you can read a summary of the topic and often times it concludes with other sources and even keywords. Once you have an understanding of your topic, you are ready to write a thesis. Writing a thesis statement will help you focus your research.

The library has these reference titles to help you:

Writing a Thesis Statement

A Thesis Statement is a “short statement, usually one sentence, that summarizes the main point or claim of your paper and is developed, supported, and explained in the text by means of examples and evidence”. ( Unabridged, 2017). It merely narrows the topic even further.

A good Thesis Statement makes a “debatable point”, meaning that one may argue against it. It’s the “roadmap” to your argument in your paper. Writing a Thesis Statement will help focus your research from this point on.

For more information on how to write a Thesis Statement, pick up the booklet "How to Write a Research paper: A Step-by-Step Guide".

Keywords- Stop & Think First Before Using Databases

Keywords are the KEY to a successful research project. While you look over your thesis statement, think of all the words that could describe the key elements in your thesis. This is called “brainstorming”.

Keywords are the words you enter into a database to find information on a topic. Use academic or professional language when deciding on keywords. Using these keywords in searching a database is a crucial step in finding appropriate and helpful sources for your project. You only want to use the main points of the topic as your keywords.

Keywords are critical for effective database searching. They...

  • help you focus on a topic.
  • help you focus your research.
  • eliminate extraneous articles.
  • are better for Internet searching too.

Ready to Use the Databases?

The Library subscribes to several types of databases for research.

Our journal databases are numerous, with many of them containing full-text articles. But do not overlook the other databases for eBooks, streaming videos, encyclopedias & dictionaries, images and printed books. There are thousands of resources that are at your fingertips when you use the databases.

The best way to do research, is to use the Resources by Subject page. Here you select the discipline that pertains to your paper or assignment. As you can see, we have databases that includes all the programs here at Trocaire and other topics as well.

Finding your Way Around the Journal Databases

Most database behave the same way:

  • Search box (or search boxes) for you to type in your keywords.
  • Limit your search to a particular year or range of years, scholarly (or peer-reviewed), full-text versus just an abstract, items with image, certain publications, etc. is easily done in most databases
  • Combining Keywords: So, once you have selected a database, you will need to type in your keywords.
  1. In order to combine keywords you will need to use “AND” in your search.
  2. To search different terms that reflect the same idea you need to use “OR” in your search.
  3. You may use “NOT” to further limit your search.
  4. You may also use quotations around a phrase, i.e. “global warming”.
  5. Use truncation marks and wild cards to expand the search.

Checkout our guide on Search Strategies: Databases for more information.

Looking at your Results after a Search

  • Once you have searched the database with your keywords, you will have a “Result List” listing all the items in the database that satisfy your search.

  • Most databases will produce a Result List by “relevance”, meaning that the most relevant articles are listed first. These will have most of your keywords, but may not be exactly what you are looking for, but keep browsing the list.

  • In some databases you can change the list to reflect the most recent items. Your job is to look at all the titles and decide if any of the result items will help you in your research.

  • Some of the items will be abstracts (a summary of the article). Do not discount the abstract items, sometimes these items are exactly what you are looking for! See below for more information on obtaining the full-text articles of the abstracts.

  • If you select a full-text article, you can read it on the screen, print it, send a link to yourself, etc.

  • Most database also have a “Cite” option that can guide you to citing the source correctly. Always check the citation with the Library’s APA or MLA handbooks. These handbooks are also available in print in the library.

  • But if your result list is not exactly what you need, you have to start again with a different strategy– you have to RE-SEARCH!

What do I do if the Journal Article is not Full-Text?

If the Library does not own an article (or other materials) that you need, the library can usually borrow it from another library for your use through our Interlibrary Loan Service (ILL).

For full-text journal articles, if University at Buffalo (UB) owns the item, we usually receive it between 2-72 hours after the request is processed and you will receive the article as a PDF in your e-mail. Ask a librarian about this service.

Putting the Research Altogether

When you are ready to type up your research, check out the library’s templates for MLA and APA style papers on our Citation Help page.

Once there you can download the template of your choice and save it. You can also access our citation guides on the page to help you with examples of in-text citations and your Reference page or Works cited page.

Also, at our Research Guides page there are several guides on various topics that may help you in all of your classes– check them out!

If you need help setting up a citation or reference page, contact a librarian.

Updated June 2021