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Using Databases for Your Research

Comprehensive overviews of how to search in popular databases provided by UD. Especially useful for anyone relying on these platforms for long-term research projects.

Tips for Searching in Any EBSCO Database

EBSCO subject databases are often the most reliable tool for locating relevant scholarly, peer-reviewed articles on a specific topic. Popular database options include: Academic Search CompleteSocINDEX with Full Text, and Humanities International Complete. The following search tips will provide an in-depth overview of how to construct an advanced search for your research project, term assignment, or literature review in any of the 100+ EBSCO databases available. Still need help? Contact a specialist in your area or schedule a consultation.

How to Access EBSCO Subject Databases at UD

Before you start searching, keep in mind . . .

Save your search in a document, export your results to a citation management software (Endnote, Zotero, etc.), and create a custom account in the database:

  • By saving your search, your strategy will be reproducible for another time and properly documented.

  • Explore options and instruction for citation management here, and find tips on how to export results.

Identifying Keywords

Before beginning your search, you will need to identify keywords related to your topic. These can be single words or phrases and should be seen as the most important words describing your topic. For example, if you are trying to find scholarly articles on the inequities resulting from climate change, you should be able to pull out two topics that result in keywords: the inequities resulting from climate change. The other words in the phrase can go away, so that you're simply left with the highlighted words:


climate change

The next step is to consider that there are many related terms (i.e. rising temperatures for climate change) and/or synonyms for these two topics. Broadening your search terms can often be achieved by scanning:

  • Your initial research questions

  • In-class readings

  • Background research articles from encyclopedias, news articles, popular magazines, etc.

  • Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles

  • Specialized vocabulary or terms authors in the field of study are using

  • Think of related, broader, and narrower terms connected to each of the key concepts.

It can be helpful to use quotes around keyword phrases (two or more keywords for a single concept) to ensure that the phrase is searched instead of each word individually (e.g. climate change can be searches as "climate change").  

TIP: Make a list or use a chart to keep track of keywords related to your topic. Keep it by your side when you start your research. Make note of which keywords return the most relevant results. It's a dynamic process and you may have to experiment with several synonyms.

Building Search Strings

Once you have identified keywords, use the following techniques to build search strings for searching in library catalogs, databases, and search engines to quickly find more relevant sources to use in your research:

Boolean Operators Search Modifiers

AND combines different ideas or concepts, narrowing the search.

Example:  fairy tales AND gender

Results will contain both the words fairy tales and gender

Phrase Searching allows adjacent words to be kept together.

Example:  “Snow White”

Results will contain words Snow and White together as an exact phrase.

OR is used when adding synonyms, different spellings, similar concepts, etc., increasing the number of results

Example: fairy tales OR folklore

Results will contain one or more of the words fairy tales and folklore

Truncation broadens search to include various word endings and spellings.

Example: histor*

Results will contain terms that begin with histor, e.g., history, histories, historical

NOT excludes terms to make the search more specific, reducing the number of results.

Example: Snow White NOT film

Results will not contain the word film

Nesting utilizes parentheses to control the logical order in which words are interpreted by the system.

Example:(fairy tales or folklore) AND gender

Results will include the word gender and either or both the words fairy tales and folklore

Example Search String

In the example of the inequities resulting from climate change, the search terms can be combined as:

inequit* AND "climate change"

When these two keywords are searched from EBSCO's Academic Search Complete advanced search page, it retrieves ~350 results (as pictured below)

screenshot of the keywords above entered into the EBSCO advanced search feature, showing how many results it retrieves

This compares to how the same database reacts when the topic is searched in a similar manner to a Google keyword search ("inequities resulting from climate change"). Note that this does not work well and brings up over 1,500 results (see screenshot). If you are trying to identify the body of research on the inequities of climate change, then having to sift through 1,500+ results is far more inefficient than having a list of 350 results.

screenshot of search with a google-style keyword search and the higher number of results retrieved

Suggested Subject Terms

  • In addition to keywords, subject headings (known as "Subject Terms" in EBSCO databases) can be helpful. Subject Terms are controlled terms--meaning a single term applies to a single concept, regardless of how many synonyms there are. Another way to think of them are as a standardized set of terms that bring consistency to the searching process. In EBSCO databases, you can add a SU delimiter by selecting the drop down menu in the advanced search feature (see screenshot below). 
  • For example, if you wanted to locate research on the inequities of climate change in Academic Search Complete, you would do so by changing the delimiter field dropdown menu to "SU Subject Terms" (as circled below) to add in a term that defines one or more of the search concepts. In this case, the topic of climate change is selected for the Subject Term search:
A screenshot of Academic Search Complete with the delimiter field dropdown menu circled
  • When using the Subject Terms delimiter, the number of results are often far lower than regular searches. In the example above using the Subject Terms delimiter, 169 results are retrieved from Academic Search Complete, whereas without the Subject Term delimiter, 305 results are retrieved. This occurs because subject headings/terms are only applied to results when the subject is one of the primary focuses of the publication. As a result, searching this way typically helps to weed out results that are not relevant. For each search result in EBSCO, subject terms can be identified within the item record (as circled below).

A screenshot of an article's detail record with the subject headings circled


  • Subject terms can also be useful if you want to locate a certain type of study. For example, if you want to read qualitative research on vocabulary instruction, one search term could be "explicit vocabulary instruction" and the SU delimiter could be "Qualitative Research".

  • Other useful Subject Terms for limiting the type of study include: 

    • Qualitative research

    • Quantitative research

    • Semi-structured interviews

    • Observation

    • Experimental Groups

    • Control Groups

    • Pretests Posttests

    • Diaries

    • Statistical Analysis

Field Tags

In addition to Subject Limiters, you can use the following field tags in any EBSCO database to specify where the database looks for the search term. To do so, there are two options. The first is to type the field tag and then the search term into the EBSCO search box (e.g. TI Islam looks for Islam in the title). The second option is to use the drop down menu directly beside each search box within the advanced search page of any EBSCO database. Here are some useful limiters:

TI — Searches the Title field

AB — Searches the Abstract field

AB OR TI — Searches the Abstract field and the Title Field at the same time 

AU — Searches the Author field

Using Limiters (also known as "filters")

You can use limiters in databases to narrow your results. After performing a database search, you can find the limiters on the left hand side of the screen. Be sure to scroll down so that you view all the limiter options!

To access the complete list of options for limits, click on the “Advanced Search” link beneath the search boxes at the top of the page.

Warning: filters such as species, ages, text availability, and subject discipline may unnecessarily exclude articles you want to see. When you apply these filters, you are using controlled vocabulary or database indexing to exclude articles. This is not always a reliable method of excluding articles.

Searching Multiple EBSCO Databases

You can search multiple databases at once. In an EBSCO database (as shown below), click Choose Databases to select resources that may be relevant to your research. NOTE that the image below is simply a picture and does not have search functionality.

Some databases you may want to search simultaneously are: Academic Search Complete, APA PsycInfo, Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, Legal Collection, National Criminal Justice Reference Service Abstracts, Political Science Complete, and/or SocINDEX.

Multi-Database Search Example

Accessing Full Text, "FIND IT!" & Interlibrary Loan Requests (ILL)

When Full Text is Available:

In many cases, the full text of a search result will be immediately available through a PDF icon and a link stating "PDF Full Text" (see below) or "Full Text via . . ." There might also be the option for "Linked Full Text" (see below). All of these links provide immediate access.

thumbnail of the "PDF Full Text" link, as it appears in EBSCOthumbnail of the "linked full text" link, as it appears in EBSCO

When Full Text Might be Available:

In other cases, a search result may not provide you with immediate access to an article (meaning we may have access). In these cases, you should see a yellow Find It! icon (as pictured below). Clicking this link will allow you to see available all options for accessing the full text.

Find It! Icon

After you click the yellow Find It link, there's a strong chance that the full text will still be immediately available. If this is the case, you will see one or more links/icons towards the upper, left side of the screen under the phrase: "Get Full Text." Click on any of the available links/icons in this section (see screenshot below for an example). Once selected, the link should open a new tab for the service hosting the article, where you will find a PDF link.

(see screenshot below)

When Full Text Needs to be Requested through Interlibrary Loan:

If an article is not immediately available in print or online, you will see the message "Request this title from another library via Interlibrary Loan" (see screenshot below). This means you can order the article (or thesis, dissertation, book chapter, etc.) for free through the library's Interlibrary Loan service (ILL). After you select the link, a new tab will open to UD's Interlibrary Loan page. Follow the directions below to login and request the article.

a screenshot of UD's full text finder interface, with the options for interlibrary loan when full text is not immediately available

Selecting the link circled above will prompt you to authenticate with your UD username and password (the same credentials you use for Porches). Once you've authenticated, you will see an auto-populated form with the information for the item you are requesting (title, author, ISBN, year, etc). Scroll to the bottom of the page and click "Submit request," as circled here:

Capture of where to click to submit ILL request

After the request has been submitted, you will receive an email when the item is ready. For journal articles, book chapters, theses/dissertations, or news articles this will mean a PDF will be sent to you electronically. For print items or DVDs, the physical item will be sent to UD where it can be picked up from our circulation desk. To learn more about requesting print books, please visit our guide on the topic.

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