Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

WEL427 Research Skills Guide: searching databases

Which Databases should I choose?

The Journal Articles page on the Human Services & Social Work Library Resource Guide provides a list of relevant journals and databases. 

Visit the Social Sciences Journal Databases listing for all potentially useful databases in your area. Note that you don't have to use every database for every assignment - but nor should you restrict your search to one database only.

Don't forget, you can also use Primo Search and Google Scholar to locate journal articles.

Journal Database Search Strategies

When you go into a journal database you will notice that many of them feature multiple search boxes that are stacked one above the other in rows.

While they may look intimidating, they can make your search process easier.

Think of each row as a train of thought. For example, if you were searching for an article about the abuse of children in foster care, you could use a new row for each element of your topic. In this case you might search for:

1st search row: "foster care"
2nd search row: child* OR youth
3rd search row: abuse

Most databases will allow you to specify which field you want to search. Common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor

Limiting your search to specific fields can yield more precise results. 

Searching within the abstract fields can be particularly helpful. This is because abstracts, as summaries of articles, are very keyword-rich: If you get a 'hit' on a keyword in an abstract you will usually find the article is relevant. The abstract is also a good source to find additional keywords you can use in your search strategies.

Once you've searched, you can also limit your results by some of these fields.

Using Facets

Most databases also allow you to limit your search or refine your results set by facets. Common facets include:

  • date
  • language
  • subject area
  • geographical area
  • material type (eg. Review articles, which will provide an overview of research on a particular topic)
  • journal title

In many cases, you can also limit a search to scholarly or peer reviewed articles. The options will depend on the database you are searching.

Thesaurus/Subject Headings

Journal databases use a controlled vocabulary when indexing article records to enable information to be grouped by topic.

By controlling the vocabulary, the database ensures that synonyms and similar phrases are collected under one accepted term.

You can search using a database's vocabulary. When you are in a database there will usually be a hyperlink near the search boxes called thesaurus, subjects, or subject headings

Full Text

Sometimes you will read that a database is 'full text', or that an article can be found in 'full text'. 'Full text' means that the entire document is available online. When a database carries an article in full text there will be a hyperlink to view it as either a PDF or html document. Not all journal databases contain full text.

If an article is not available in full text you may be able to locate it in another database. Clicking on the Find it CSU button will allow you to check if the article is available elsewhere. 

Want to learn more about journal databases?

  • The Library holds a series of Online Library Workshops, some of these focus on journal database searching. 
  • We also have a Databases Help guide that contains a wealth of information on using journal databases.