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ENGL 1A/2A: Critical Thinking & Writing (McIsaac): Tipsheets for Database Families

Database Families

Depending on which database you are searching, you will probably be using one that is a member of one of these three 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!

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.

Tips for Searching a Gale database, the MLA International Bibliography

TIP ONE: This database uses fewer words than most, so you need to choose your words wisely and, probably, do many searches to find the best words.

TIP TWO: It is important to consider the Field Labels adjacent to the search boxes carefully. Keyword is where you would put words describing a topic or idea like music or bilingual. Name of work is used to search for literary criticism on a particular novel or poem, for example. Person - About is for searching for critical or biographical information on an author.  You can change any or all as you wish.

TIP THREE: Before searching scroll down and consider everything under More Options. Some of these are very important! You might want to exclude dissertations or just look for material in English. 

TIP THREE: Enclose phrases in " " ("asian american", "visual literacy") and use the * to truncate (multimodal*, stereotyp*).

TIP FOUR: Use the Find it @ SCU link to get to the fulltext of journal articles. Search OSCAR to determine if we have the book for any material labeled BOOK ARTICLE (the book title is the smaller, darker, italicized title).

TIP FIVE: An MLA formatted citation as well as a stable URL to block-copy are available at the end of the full record description of each item.

TIP SIX: As you review the items in your search results, you can collect the ones you want by clicking on the Save folder. When you are done collecting, click on the large X-More in the band at the top of the screen. The folder will then appear. You can then email yourself MLA formatted citations and working links.