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ENGL 1A/2A Critical Thinking & Writing (Billings)

Database Families

Depending on which database you are searching, you will probably be using one that is a member of one of these two major families of databases. Each family has its own quirks. You can make your searching much more efficient, save time & energy, if you read these tips very thoughtfully!

Critical Cautionary Note

Extremely important, and annoyingly detailed, instructions and tips are in the boxes below. You'd be wise to review them.


When you are scrolling through search results in library databases, never-ever-ever-ever, do the following:

You will find that, in only a few minutes, there will be a rude "sorry charlie" message in that Tab or Window you thought you opened that article in. And, if you Save or Copy the Link Address, and paste it in a document or an email, when you click on it later, it will not work.

Instead, use the available tools in the database to collect search results and to email results. Those options are always there if you look around for them. 

I'm not making this up!

Tips for Searching an EBSCOHost Database

TIP ONE: Think very carefully about the words you will use to search. Stick to the concrete and unambiguous. Use single words rather than phrases, except when necessary. Geography, for example, can be a sticky wicket! You may be tempted to use U.S. or America in a search. Don't! If you must, use the phrase "United States" (in quotes, like that).

TIP TWO: Use the " " around phrases and the asterisk (stereotyp*, college*) to truncate. In this database, these tools are critical.

TIP THREE: The Boolean OR is very important here. For example, you may be thinking an idea like "the western states", but you'd type something like this in one of the search boxes (the boxes expand):

california or nevada or arizona or "new mexico" or oregon or washington and so on

TIP FOUR: Don't forget to specify the years of publication you are interested in. Some of these databases have some pretty old things in them.

TIP FIVE: Once you've done your search, click on the article titles (in blue) and scan the abstracts to see if you like them. If you do, and the fulltext is there, use the option to send it to yourself. You'll get the PDF as an attachment and you can have the database send you a formatted citation using the pulldown menu:

TIP SIX: Use the Find It @ SCU to get to the fulltext when it is not right there in the database you are searching. It could be just a click away.

NOTE :  If you need to POST a CITATION and a LINK (not what is in the address bar at the top!) to a specific article, you can get the citation by clicking on the tiny   icon in the column to the right. You can also get a working link by clicking on PERMALINK in that same column to the right.

BONUS TIP :  As you review your search results, put them in a folder by clicking on the folder icon either below or in the right column, depending on how you are viewing your results. Then when you are finished reviewing, click on the folder icon in the bar at the very top of the screen. You can then send them to yourself as a group and even specify which format you want the citations to appear in. You'll also get a permanent link back to the individual records in the database.

Tips for Searching a Proquest Database

TIP ONE: You ARE an ADVANCED searcher. So, if you open in the Basic search mode, click the Advanced Search hotlink straightaway!

TIP TWO: Use those search boxes and the Boolean AND to describe your topic. Stick to really important, unambiguous keywords. Separate synonyms/alternatives by using the OR or actually typing an OR. Put " " around phrases. Use the asterisk* to pick up variations on words ... even for a singular/plural. See the example below of a search on binge drinking in sororities and fraternities:

Then click 


TIP THREE: There's a lot in here that is not scholarly/peer-reviewed journal articles. To limit your results to just the academic journal literature, click Scholarly Journals in the column to the left of the search results.


TIP FOUR: Use the date limit options in the column to the left of the search results. Some of these databases have very old materials in them.


TIP FIVE: If your numbers are HUGE, consider using the field searching option for the most basic subject elements in your search. In the example here I might do this:

TIP SIX: Click on the article titles that sound interesting and read the abstracts. Then, if you like it, capture the formatted APA or MLA or .... citation by clicking the button to the right of the title of the article.


TIP SEVEN: Send yourself the fulltext and a PERMANENT LINK to items you like by using the EMAIL option. You can block-copy a stable document URL in the Abstract/Details view. Alternatively, you can mark individual records to put them in a Folder (in the bar at the top of the screen) to email as a group.

TIP EIGHT: Use the Find It @ SCU Libraries link to search for the fulltext if it is not right there! It could be a simple click away!

Tips for Searching a Gale Database

IMPORTANT NOTE: Unlike the other 2 major database families, EBSCO and PROQUEST, the Gale search screens can vary dramatically from database to database. The tips here, therefore, may seem to be more general!

TIP ONE: Generally, you will want to do an ADVANCED SEARCH. That will probably be highlighted already and the default. However, look at the other options offered in the gray band, like these 2 examples:


The first one has an option to do a PERSON search because it is a literary database and people often want to look up an author! The 2nd one offers to do a PUBLICATION search because it is a newspaper database and expects many people will want to look up one particular newspaper.

TIP TWO: Use your 3 ADVANCED search boxes thoughtfully! Again, they will not be identical from database to database. Think of each box as the place to put one idea. Three boxes, three ideas! However, you also have to look at the FIELDS that box is going to search. Look at this example from the large Gale Literature Literature Resource Center:


The 1st box is labeled KEYWORD. You'd use this box to search an idea/topic. The 2nd box, Name of work, is set to look up a particular literary work, a poem or novel. The 3rd box is set to look up a person, useful when searching for criticism of an author or works by an author. You can change where any box searches. So, for example, you could have 2 boxes set to look up authors if you wanted to look for articles that discuss 2 different authors at the same time! Notice, you can also add a line, a 4th box.

TIP THREE: Enter your search terms thoughtfully and carefully. Unlike Google, these databases will not correct your typing. Also, always, always, always, use the * to truncate search terms that have variable endings. For example, if one of the ideas you were searching was stereotypes, you would enter it like this:

This assures that you find any of these terms:  stereotype, stereotypes, stereotyping, stereotypical, and so on! This is not a trivial thing!

TIP FOUR: Once you have decided on your search terms, scroll down and look at all the different additional things you can specify. This varies from database to database, but among them are things like dates (recent? older?), types of documents (articles? books? advertisements?), language (English only?), and so on. This varies a lot depending on which database you are using, but always look at them!

TIP FIVE: As you scroll through your search results, note which are fulltext and which are not! Some of these Gale databases are all fulltext, and some are not. For those that are not, use the FIND-IT-@-SCU link to search for the fulltext of articles. Use the OSCAR link if the item is a book or chapter in a book.

TIP SIX: When you find an item you want and are viewing the fulltext of that item, look at your fairly self-explanatory options in the top right band: