Research in the Digital Age
The J. W. Martin Library subscribes to approximately eighty research databases. These databases contain books, journals, magazines, videos, and other resources you can access from on campus or off, any time of the day or night.
Although the library subscribes to some journals in print, the majority of periodicals we receive are digital. So when you need peer-reviewed articles for your papers, reports, or other projects, the research databases will be the most important place to go. In the following, you’ll learn how to use the databases effectively.
Read this page, and then TAKE THE QUIZ to test your knowledge. Remember that you'll have to use the databases to answer the questions!
- A brief summary of an article’s content, usually one paragraph in length
- Advanced search
- An option in almost any catalog or database system, an advanced search allows you to search only particular areas of a source (such as title or author’s name), to search using controlled vocabulary, or to make a complex search that brings together multiple terms with Boolean operators
- Boolean operator
- A fancy way to describe the words AND, OR, and NOT; catalogs, databases, and search engines are designed to recognize these words, which typically must be typed in ALL CAPS
- Controlled vocabulary
- A list of officially recognized terms for classifying books or other information sources; controlled vocabulary is used to make subject headings
- In a library, a database is a searchable collection of digital information; among other things, a database is now a typical place to find peer-reviewed journal articles
- Detailed record
- In an EBSCOhost database, a detailed record includes title, author, abstract, subject terms, and publication information; every record in the database will have a detailed record, but only some will have full text
- Full text
- Indicates that the entirety of an article is available, and not simply its abstract and reference information
- Peer-reviewed articles are written by experts and critiqued by other experts before being published in a scholarly journal; you will typically need peer-reviewed sources for your academic research
- Reference works are compendia of knowledge, either general or on a specific subject, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and almanacs
- Research guide
- Research guides are online documents, like this one, designed to inform you about a specific topic or arrange library resources for your use; many classes have associated research guides
- A subject or subject heading is a term taken from a formally created list used to describe books and other resources; one of the most widely used lists of subject terms is the Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Not to be confused with a book of synonyms, a thesaurus in a research database contains a list of subject headings
Finding the Databases
If you look at the top of this guide, at the top of any research guide in our system, or at the library homepage, you will notice a black navigation bar. One of the options on this bar is labeled Databases.
Selecting that option will take you to the main portal for our Electronic Resources, which should look something like this:
Exploring the Electronic Resources Page
Let’s quickly go over the most important parts of the Electronic Resources page.
First, we have the navigation pane to the left.
This navigation pane shows that we are on the main page, which will give us access to all eighty of the available databases. However, from this navigation pane, we can also choose to browse Databases by Subject, an option that will open a new page:
On this page, you can see all the databases in alphabetical order. Hovering the mouse over their titles will show you their descriptions.
These databases include such reference resources as specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias. These can be useful for getting a broad overview of a subject. They are particularly helpful when you are beginning your research and need to learn general information before focusing in on a more specific topic.
There's no space to go over the interfaces of all the different databases available in our system. However, approximately two thirds of our databases are hosted by an organization called EBSCO. Almost all of these databases have the same interface, and this interface can even be used to search multiple databases simultaneously.
There are a few different spots on the Electronic Resources page from which you can get access to EBSCOhost.
Directly under the A–Z dropdown list is a box called Additional Search Tools. You can explore the box's other content on your own, but you will notice one link labeled EBSCOhost Databases. Since EBSCOhost is so prominent in our database system, this link is placed here to make it easy to open EBSCOhost without searching through the A–Z list.
Selecting Your Database
Once you have followed the link to EBSCOhost, you will see a screen that looks like this:
This will take you to a screen with a complete list of EBSCO databases available at our institution. Each of the databases has a description so you can determine which will most likely be useful for your research project.
For this example, we will simply select Academic Search Complete. This database contains full text and citations of a wide range of publications covering many subjects. You should make it a standard “go-to” when you’re looking for resources. Keep in mind, however, that you can select more than one database at a time.
Searching in the Database
Once you are in the database, you will be presented with a search bar that functions similarly to the library catalog.
You can refer back to the pointers on catalog use for some basic tips on searching. Instead of covering those again, we’ll simply point out some of the differences between EBSCOhost and our catalog:
As an example, let’s search once again for resources about the folklore hero John Henry. It’s possible to craft a careful and precise search using the Advanced Search option, but as with the catalog, it’s often easier to limit a search after we’ve started. So let’s begin with a basic search:
You can see that this search has returned a lot of irrelevant resources due to John and Henry being common names. Once again, John Henry Newman features prominently:
As we did before, we could use Boolean operators and quotation marks to improve our search. Since we did that already in the catalog, we won’t repeat that here. But we will point out that there is once again a left sidebar that will allow us to winnow our resources down:
This sidebar presents us with a lot of options, but the most important are at the top. We can limit a search:
- To resources with Full Text, meaning we can have them right away without needing to order them from another institution
- To Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals, meaning resources written and vetted by experts
- By Publication Date, meaning we can exclude older or newer sources depending on the needs of our research
And remember, if you place limiters and don’t get enough resources as a result, it's easy to take a limiter off.
There are a lot of other things we can do in the database, but for now, we’ll examine just one more feature. As in the catalog, it’s possible to search by subject. EBSCOhost uses the same Library of Congress Subject Headings that the catalog does, but expands on them considerably. To search by subject, look for the link on the blue navigation bar at the top:
In Academic Search Complete, the subject headings are called Subject Terms. Unfortunately, EBSCOhost is inconsistent with this label; in some databases, the label may be called Thesaurus or CINAHL Headings or something else. But the link is always in the same place on the navigation bar.
Once we are in the subject term list, we can search for the correct term to use to find John Henry by using the Browsing search bar:
When we perform the search for the correct term, the database responds by showing us the official subject terms closest to what we entered. Once again, the best term is John Henry (Legendary character). By selecting that term and then clicking the button marked Add, we can enter that subject term into the search bar at the top of the screen.
As you can see, this gives us results much more likely to be relevant to our search:
Many resources in the databases are available in full text, but not all. If you come upon an article in an EBSCOhost database that is not available in full text, you can easily order it through interlibrary loan by clicking the link labeled Ask Northwestern to get this item from another library.
This will open a form that has automatically been populated with the information about the article. Simply fill in your personal information at the top, making sure to use your complete NWOSU email address.
Once you have filled out the form, hit Submit. Requested articles are usually sent electronically and arrive within a week.