Conducting a Database Search

Tips to Help You Suceed

Databases Defined

A database is a collection of data that is organized in order of its contents to be easily accessed, managed, and updated.

The Specific to General Approach

Do you have a known relevant topic and would like to find others like it? Then, this is the right approach for you.


  • Locate the known item in the file.
  • After locating the record, look at subject terms assigned to the work and use those words for another search for more items. HINT: You can use your thesaurus or list of subject headings.
  • If you are satisfied with your results your search is complete. If you would like more results, try using terms found in the title or abstract. HINT: Because this type of search is highly interactive, you may feel lost or distracted while searching. Try to focus and decide when to stop expanding the search and going through the process over and over again.

The General to Specific Approach

Is there something specific you are searching for? Finding the correct level of specificity is important. To do so, look at your thesaurus in print or online.


  • The alphabetical listing and the tree structure can be used together to find out what the correct level of specificity is.
  • Once you have found the correct location in an information source, the describing words can be scanned to find more specific items.
  • In a system without cross-reference, you must use the allowed term (so make sure spelling and grammar is correct) to find materials.

By: Jane Khaytin

LIS 5322

End Note

The specific to general approach may be best used for the electronic environment; whereas the general to specific approach works best when you want to get a quick overview of a topic by scanning a print source or when a screen display provides a quick and efficient grasp of materials retrieved.

Happy Searching!

Works Cited:

Bopp, Richard E., and Linda C. Smith. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. 4th ed. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited, 2011. Print.