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General Research Process: Finding Articles

What are databases?

A database is a digital or electronic collection of material such as articles from newspapers, magazines, journals, reference books, e-books, and multimedia such as videos and music. 

Libraries are able to provide access to electronic resources by subscribing to various databases. What types of databases a library subscribes to depends on the type of library and it's users information needs. For example, a public library will subscribe to different databases than an academic library. 

The content in databases is not the same as the results you'll see when searching Google, Bing or some other search engine. The information in databases, while accessed online, does not come from web sites. Libraries pay a substantial amount of money to provide reputable resources to its users. 

Below is an example of what you'll find in a library database versus searching Google.

Google versus library database results

Databases are created and provided by vendors. For example, a common database vendor is Ebsco. Ebsco provides access to a wide variety of databases, each one with a different focus. For example, there are databases that specifically contain articles about health topics, education, the environment, criminal justice, business, etc. There are also multi-subject databases that have information on a wide variety of topics. A library can then decide which Ebsco databases it wants to subscribe to based on the needs of the library users. For MVC, the databases available are to support the programs, classes, and assignments of the college. 

Since libraries subscribe to several different databases with different purposes, the first step to looking for articles is to determine the best database for your information need. If you're looking for information about ethics in business you may want to search a business database. If you're looking for information about the effects of violence in the media, you may want to search a psychology database. It's definitely possible to search multiple databases at one time. 

Searching Databases

Once you've decided on a topic, done some background research, developed a research question, and identified your keywords, the next step is choosing the best database for your information need and searching that database using various search techniques such as Boolean operators. 

The MVC Library subscribes to a wide variety of databases from different vendors.

Often times people get confused between what is a database and what is a vendor. It's important to understand the difference for the purposes of citing sources. It may help to think of a database provider such as Ebsco as the name of a mall, and the databases as the stores within the mall that sell specific types of merchandise. For example, there's a store for jewelry, a store for shoes, a store for women's clothes, a store for children's clothes, etc. Ebsco provides access to several subject specific databases (i.e. stores). For example, Ebsco provides access to a Business database, a Computer Science database, an Education database, etc. Ebsco would be the vendor, not the database. Databases are very similar in that there's a 'store,' or database for business information, one for education topics, criminal justice information, etc.

It might also help to think of vendors vs. databases in terms of TV. For example, ROKU isn't a TV channel, it provides access to TV channels. Roku would be the equivalent of Ebsco, and a channel such as Disney would be the equivalent to a database. 

I hope these explanations provide clarification rather than confusion. 

To find the list of databases available through the MVC library and their descriptions:


  • You should then see an alphabetical list of all of the databases available to you as an MVC student. 

A to Z list of databases

  • If you know the specific database you'd like to search, you can choose the database directly from this A - Z list. 
  • Once you've chosen the database, you're ready to type in your search statement using the keywords you've identified and some of the search techniques learned in earlier modules.


  • Databases don't understand 'natural language' or complete sentences so you want to make sure to use keywords and boolean operators. 


  • Once you click search, on the next page you'll see a list of results. 
  • On the left side of the page with the list of results, you can refine your results in several ways:
    • You can limit to full text
    • You can limit to scholarly/peer reviewed articles
    • You can limit by date range


  • To read the full text of the article, click on the title. On that page you'll see more information about the article itself. 
  • Every article has subject terms associated with it. These give you a little more detail about what the article is about. These subject terms are good to help develop additional keywords to use when searching.
  • To read the full text, click on the PDF Full Text link on the left.
  • To learn more about the Source, or Publication, click on the name of the publication.




When searching databases, there are usually a variety of 'tools' available to you that allow you to interact with and use the information.

  • Cite: This tool helps you cite the source in different formats, such as MLA.
  • Permalink: This tool gives you the stable URL for the article. This is what you can use to copy and paste a link to yourself or someone else. This is also the URL you would use in a citation if you are including that in your citations. Using the URL in the address bar at the top of the page will not work! 



Search Techniques

When searching any source, there are many search techniques that can be employed to make research more efficient and effective. These search techniques can be used in library databases as well as search engines such as Google. These search techniques are sometimes referred to as the 'mechanics' of searching. 

Below are some of the most common search techniques:

Boolean Operators are used to tell the database how you want your search terms or keywords to operate in the database. They're they equivalent to mathematical symbols such as +, -, \times\div.

  • AND 
  • OR
  • NOT


  • AND: This boolean operator is used to connect two or more terms that must be in the articles you retrieve. Using AND will always DECREASE the number of results. For example, hollywood and diversity. AND is never used inside parentheses. 
  • OR: This boolean operator is used to connect two LIKE terms. Terms connected by OR MUST be inside parentheses. This technique is called nesting and is discussed further below. Using OR will INCREASE the number of results. For example, (hollywood or movies) and diversity. OR is always used inside parentheses. 
  • NOT: This boolean operator excludes terms. For example, health care reform NOT obamacare

Below is a visual image explaining these three boolean operators. 

Venn Diagram showing the use of boolean operators


Nesting is used to group search terms together. It essentially tells the database the order of operations. Nesting is only used with terms connected by OR. It is not used with terms connected by AND. For example (media or television or movies or internet) and (violence or aggression or brutality)

Phrase searching tells the database the exact phrase you'd like to search. Any time you wish to search for more than two words as a phrase, it must be in quotes for the database to understand that it's a phrase. If the terms aren't in quotes, the database will search each individual word, which will result in a large number of irrelevant results. For example, "health care reform"; "sexually transmitted diseases"

Truncation is a technique used to search for word variants. The truncation symbol can vary from database to database. However, the most common symbol is an asterisk *. Truncation is used at the end of a word and there's no limit to the number of letters that can be retrieved after the asterisk. Examples of truncation are: child* will retrieve child, childs, children, childhood, etc. Tech* will retrieve technical, technology, technologically.

Wildcards are also used to look for word variants, however wildcards only replace one letter. They can be used in the middle of a word, unlike truncation which is always at the end of a term. The wildcard symbol is commonly an exclamation point. An example of the use of a wildcard would be wom!n. This will retrieve woman or women. 

If you're not sure what symbol a database uses for truncation or wildcards, there is always a help screen somewhere in the database that will let you know what symbol is used. 

Below is an example of a search statement that uses a variety of these search techniques:

(violen* or aggression or brutal*) and (media or television or movie* or "video games") and (child or kid* or youth or minor*)