A General Tutorial for Finding Articles from a Database


Contents of this Tutorial:

1.) What is a Database?

2.) Selecting a Database

3.) Common Features of all Databases

4.) Basic Searching

5.) Getting the Article

6.) Printing, Emailing, Saving

1.) What is a Database? In general, a database is an online collection of information that can be searched in some way.

Article “databases” refer to online collections of citations, abstracts, and/or full-text articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers. When you enter a query into one of the article databases, you will retrieve citations for articles about that topic. Sometimes you may also be able to retrieve the complete text of the article online.

Library databases are accessed through the Internet, but the library pays for this content to ensure that you receive high-quality information. Thus, it is beneficial for you to search for articles using the library’s article databases rather than just turning to a search engine such as Google.

University Libraries has subscriptions to numerous discipline-specific (nursing, education, science, etc.) online databases. These databases are provided by a variety of companies (EBSCOhost, CSA, Lexis-Nexis, JSTOR, etc.).  For that reason the database interface that you see when you are searching one database may change when you search another.  Though the database search interfaces may change, many databases have common features.  This tutorial will walk you through these common features and help you to find articles using the library databases.

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2.) Selecting a Database:

A list of databases by title and by academic area can be found on the University Libraries’ home page by clicking the “Articles & Databases” link in the gray navigation toolbar.  The quickest method to retrieve a list of relevant databases is to use the “Databases by Subject” list located on the left side of the page.  From that list pick the academic area that best fits your topic.  For example, for articles about school administration you could choose “Education” or “Educational Leadership and School Counseling.”  A list of databases covering educational topics will be provided under either of those subject areas.

Practice Session

1.)  For our purposes, let’s do a search for some articles on drug abuse and teenagers.  On the University Libraries’ home page (to the right), locate and click the “Articles & Databases” link.  Use the menu under “Databases by Subject.”  The subject or academic area we select from this list depends on what aspect of the topic we want to search.  For instance, if we wanted to read about the legal aspects of drug abuse we might select “Legal Research” or “Criminal Justice.”  If we wanted health-related articles, we might select “Health Sciences.”  2.) For purposes of this tutorial let’s examine drug abuse and teenagers as a societal problem and select the academic area “Sociology.” This is a field that covers research in a vast array of social issues.  After clicking on “Sociology,” look at the “Subject Databases” list and select the database SocINDEX with Full-Text.  This database covers research in the social sciences.  If you are working off-campus you will be prompted to enter your Southern Miss ID number and your SOAR password.  3.)  You should now see a search screen with a search box near the top for entering search terms.

Quiz Question #1

If you don't know which database to use for a topic, one good way to select one that deals with your subject is:
Select a database randomly from the “All Databases” list.
Choose “Articles & Databases” and select an academic area from the “Databases by Subject” list that covers your topic.
Use the library catalog
Search Google

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3.) Common Features of all Databases:

Take a moment to get familiar with the screen.

Though databases may differ in appearance, they all have some common features. Look for:
Search box for inputting keyword terms (see features of "Basic Searching," below)
Limiters - options for limiting your search. Some common options include:

-Limiting to full-text articles
-Limiting publication years
-Limiting to peer-reviewed material

Advanced or Guided Searching - gives further options for limiting or expanding your search.
Subject or Index Searching - "Subject Search” lists the information contained in a database according to topic. "Index Search" is an alphabetical listing of all the searchable words in the database. You may also see the term thesaurus. Some databases use a standardized vocabulary to ensure that all material on a given topic is located in the same place. Sometimes you may have to use a thesaurus or a subject/index search to locate the appropriate term if a query does not locate any relevant material.
• Option to Print/Email/Save results (this is only displayed after a search has been completed).

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4.) Basic Searching:

Keyword searching allows you to combine words and/or phrases in order to find citations that match your terms. The database is not searching for a concept – it is only looking for the exact words or phrases that you have entered. As a result, there may be some citations in the list of search results that are not relevant to what you are looking for. To ensure that you are getting a more complete list of relevant citations, you may want to try a combination of synonyms in your search or use the thesaurus or subject index (if available) to find a more precise term for your search. Each combination will return different results. (Example: teenagers and drug abuse may give you different results than adolescents and drug abuse though both represent the same concept).

A. Boolean operators: You can combine two or more keywords into a search by using the boolean operators AND, OR, NOT. AND finds records that contain both of your keywords, example - teenagers and drug abuse. OR finds records that have either one or both of your keywords. You would typically use it to find one or the other of two synonyms. Examples: drug abuse or substance abuse; teenagers or adolescents.

NOT eliminates records that have a certain keyword. Example - drug abuse not alcohol. You may use as many booleans and boolean combinations as you need, but be sure to use parentheses, when appropriate, around combinations:
(adolescents or teenagers) and (drug abuse or substance abuse)

B. Truncation and Wildcard: You can use a truncation device (*) or a wildcard (?) to find plurals, variant spellings, and different endings for a keyword. This will improve your search results by including all the possible spellings of your keyword. (Example: teen* will find teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, or teenaged and wom?n will find woman or women).

Practice Session
For this practice session, let's continue our search for articles on drug abuse. If we keyword search for the term “drug abuse,” we will get thousands of citations. If we want articles more relevant to our topic, it is important to add several keywords to limit our search results. In this case, instead of looking for articles in general on drug abuse, let's look for information about teenage drug abuse and sociology.

1.) In the search box to the right, type the keywords for our search about teenage drug abuse and sociology:

drug abuse and teenage and sociology

Be sure to join each word or phrase with and. Click Search.

2.) Look at the number of results. Although we did retrieve records, it's not all of the records that we COULD retrieve, since the database is looking only for the words we gave it - teenage (but not teens , teenager or teenagers) and sociology (but not sociological or sociologists). Go back up to the main search box to revise the search.

3.) Type

drug abuse and teen* and sociolog*

Click Search. This has now expanded the search significantly. The result screen you see shows the first 10 records. There should be a link at the top or bottom of the page to move to the next list of records.

4.) The result screen gives a brief citation for each article. View an abstract or summary of the article by clicking on the highlighted article title. (In some databases, the link to the abstract may be located under "View Complete Record.")

Quiz Question #2
Truncating the word sociolog* will search for all the following words except:


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5.) Getting the Article

A. Checking for Full-Text Availability: If the full text of the article is available, there will be a link under the citation that says "PDF Full-Text" or "HTML Full-Text" or sometimes both.

B. If it's Not Full-Text in the Database: If the article is not available full-text, you can use the "Find It!" tool to determine whether the article is available full-text in another database or if the library owns a printed copy. Clicking on the "Find It!” button pulls up a list of options.

“Find It!” first scans all of the library’s other databases to determine whether the article is available to you in full-text elsewhere. If so, you may be provided with a convenient link to the article or the database where that journal is available.

In other cases, University Libraries may not have full-text access to the article in any database. You may see an option on the “Find It!” menu labeled “Check the library catalog for holdings.” Clicking on this link opens a pop-up window and performs an automatic library catalog search to see whether the journal is available in University Libraries in some format (print, microfilm, etc.). If the journal is available at USM, you will have to determine whether we own the volume/issue/year you need. If this is unclear, you may need to contact Reference Services at University Libraries.

If the search reveals that University Libraries does not own the journal in print or any other format, other links are provided. You can click on the link labeled “Search Google” to perform an automatic web search for the article. If the article does not appear anywhere on the Web, you can request that it be sent to you through the library’s Interlibrary Loan/ILLiad service.

Practice Session
1.) In our search above, look through the list of citations. Find one that is full-text and click on the "Full Text" link to view a complete article. If this was an article that you wanted, you could "Print/Email/Save" it from this screen. Somtimes icons or symbols for "Print/Email/Save" are provided instead.

2.) Let's return to the list of citations by scrolling to the top or bottom of the record and clicking on "Result List."

3.) Look through the citation list again and find a citation that is not full-text, one that has only a link to "Find It!". Click on "Find It!" automatically searches through the other article databases to find the article. If it is available in another database, you should see a link to it. If a link has been provided for the full-text, close the "Find It!" box. Click on several more "Find It!" buttons until you find one that is not full-text in another database.

4.) When the full-text is not available for a citation, it is necessary to check University Libraries' holdings to see if the journal is physically available at the library so that copies can be made. First, write down the name of the journal and the volume, issue and date from the citation at the top of the "Find It!" screen. Then look on the "Find It!" list and click on the link to the library's holdings.

5.) A new window will open and a search is automatically made in the library catalog for the journal title. If a message appears that states "Item not Found," USM Libraries does not own the journal. If a record appears with the journal title, University Libraries does own the journal. Though we may own the journal, we may not own the volume and issue you need. So let's check.

6.) To check the record in the library catalog to be sure that we own the volume and issue you need, view the holdings within the record. If only one record appears, scroll down to the bottom for the holdings. If more than one record appears (we often have the periodicals in different formats - paper, microfiche, microfilm or online), click the title for the full record and scroll down the page to the library's holdings to view what volume and issues we own in that format and its location.

7.) If a record for your journal appears, scroll down to the holdings and determine if we own the volume, issue, date that you need. If we have the volume you need, write down the call number and/or the location where it can be found.

8.) Close out the the library catalog window by clicking on the "X" in the upper right-hand corner of the the library catalog window.

Quiz Question #3
If the article is not available full-text in any database, you will need to:

Check the library catalog to see if University Libraries has the journal
Check the public library
Order the article through Interlibrary Loan/ILLiad.
Give up your search

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6.) Printing, Emailing, and Saving Records: You can print, email or save a number of selected records by marking the records that you would like to keep. Look for a box for checkmarking or "Adding" the item. It is important to remember that an article must be available in the database in order for it to be emailed to you. If the full-text is not available for your viewing, it will not be emailed.

Practice Session
Let's email a citation.

1.) Using the result list for the search above, "Add" the 2nd item to your folder list.
2.) Look at the top of the screen for the folder with items and click the folder to view your saved citation. Click the link to "Select" and then click on the E-Mail icon.
3.) Type your email address in the "E-mail to:" box. Make sure the address is typed correctly. Type "Practice" in the "Subject:" box. Look to the lower right and you will see a check box for selecting a citation or style format. Select the style format your teacher has recommended.
4.) Now click on the button to send email. You should get a message that confirms that an e-mail response has been sent. Next time you check your email, you should see this record.

Quiz Question #4
True or False - In order to retrieve a full-text article by way of e-mail from a database, the article must be available from the database as PDF or HTML full-text.


If you would like your quiz answers to be emailed to your instructor, please place your email address in the first box and your instructor's email address in the second box. Click the "SEND" button to submit your answers.

Your Email Address:

Your Instructor's Email Address:

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If you have any questions, please use the Ask-a-Librarian form or phone the Cook Library reference desk at 601.266.4249.

Last Updated January 2011. Eagle E-struction is modeled on the Louis E-struction Program http://www.lib.lsu.edu/louis/.