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Searching for Online and Print Information Sources: Database Searching

This LibGuide is designed to provide tips and suggestions for searching for online and print information sources, especially for research assignments or research for publication. Most of these strategies might be called "recipe guides" because they offe

Page Overview

This page introduces electronic databases and offers tips on how to perform searches using them.

Find Journal(s)

Search for Journal Title
Limit Your Results

Special Note

NOTE: Due to license agreements, some journals and/or specific issues may not be available in full-text.

Who has access?

If you are faculty, staff, or currently enrolled in classes at Jacksonville State University, you can access the Library's electronic resources from your home computer.

Where can I access these resources?

Access is granted through an authentication application called EZproxy. It is very easy to use, and it allows our users to access our resources from any browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) or service provider (AOL, Mindspring, etc.).

How Do I Access These Resources?

When you're prompted for a student/staff ID and your last name, type in your student/staff number (all numbers, no dashes, no spaces) including ALL leading zeroes and your last name. For example:

  • Student/Staff ID: 123456789
  • Last Name: smith

Click the "Submit" button and you're in! Once you have been authenticated, you can begin searching the resource. If you have any problems accessing the databases, use the contact information in the Help box above to contact us.

Searching Databases

Why use electronic databases?

To identify and locate "partial" items

  • articles in journals, especially in peer-reviewed academic journals
    • many, if not most, academic journals have migrated from print to digital format
  • interviews in magazines
  • editorials in newspapers
  • information found in books
    • except for a few proprietary databases, databases index far fewer books than they do journal articles

Database Selection

Two approaches: Library home page (scroll down) Subject Guides <click>, Subject List <click>,  and then choose a subject <click> and then a database; OR Subject Specialists <click>, select a librarian <click>, and then select a database

  • by Subject List (
  • by Subject Specialist (

Database selection depends on not only the subject being researched, but also on the approach to that subject (e.g., sociological, psychological, literary)

Database Interface

NOTE: The following information references EBSCOhost databases such as Academic Search Premier, partly because the library subscribes to so many of them and partly because the EBSCO interface is so user friendly. 

Search panel (make sure database is set for Advanced Search)

  • Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT)
    • define the relationship between the terms in the boxes to either side of the operator
      • AND usually returns the fewest search results but with the highest relevance
      • OR returns the greatest number of results, but at the expense of relevance
      • NOT is used to block words which may sabotage a search (like "film," if what you are seeking are book reviews)
    • if manually entered, Boolean operators must be typed in ALL CAPS
  • Select a Field (directs search engine to search only specific parts of an item record)
    • SU usually returns fewest results but with highest relevance
    • TX usually returns highest number of results but with less relevance
    • Select a Field is midpoint default setting and is suitable for most searching
    • TI is for the partial item (article, essay, chapter)                                      
    • SO is for the entire item (journal, magazine, book)

 Relevance trifecta

  • Using the term(s) you have typed in the Search box(es) as your measuring standard, in the center pane of the interface (Results List) look for matches of your search terms in
    • the hi-lited title of the article 
    • the Subjects line beneath the article citation
    • the article Abstract (a summary of the article); to view the Abstract, click on the article title to redirect to the full record screen
  • The more matches you get, the greater the likelihood the article will be useful to you

Center pane (Search Results)

  • lists the results harvested from a search with links to full text (where applicable)
    • clicking on blue folder image at right side of pane will add item to a master folder (top of screen)
    • full text options
      • HTML and PDF text is available within the database
      • Full Text Finder and Linked Full Text search for full text outside the database

Left pane (Refine Results)

  • permits search manipulation through filtering by document type and format, date range, and other limiters
    • filtering will reduce number of results from previous searches

Right pane (Tools)

  • does not become visible until hi-lited title of article is clicked on
    • offers citation generator and full text retention options

Database Searching

    1.  Make sure database is set for Advanced Search (three search boxes stacked).

    2.  Enter principal (broadest or main) term in top Search box; <search>.

  • making initial search unfiltered shows maximum number of results possible
    • following initial search is a good time to apply left pane Refine Search filters such as document type and full text 

     3.  Peruse search results for relevancy and additional filtering terms.

  • see Relevance trifecta above
  • look at titles of items indexed and Subjects line for terms which could be added to the search to get nearer the "bullseye" of your search  

     4.  Consider alternate search terms and truncation.

  • alternate terms = words which have some connection or meaning similarity with words already used in Search boxes
    • e.g., "mind" or "mental" for "psychological"
  • truncation = using the asterisk (*) at the end of an abbreviated term in order to account for variant forms of the word
    • e.g., psychol* will stand for psychology, psychologies, psychologist, psychologists, psychological
      • permits piggy-backing multiple searches into single search without compromising the quality of search results
  • alternate terms and truncation both should  increase the number of search results
    • researchers want information: ideas, arguments, opinions -- abstract concepts
    • digital search engines are literal; they will look for the words typed into the Search boxes
    • therefore researchers should choose search terms most likely to harvest the information they seek
      • concept overrules language: match the term to the idea, not the other way around 

   5.  Enter first filtering term in middle Search box; <search>. 

   6.  Enter additional refining terms (if needed) in third and following Search box(es).

Add rows, change Boolean operators and search fields as needed. 

Use the left pane to limit search results; use the right (Tools) pane for citation formats and full text retention options. 

Levels of Database Searching

Levels of electronic database searching

Electronic databases may be searched on three levels:

  • singly (native database)
  • in groups, provided they all are products of the same vendor (database silo)
  • Gemfinder Search, which can simul-search multiple databases across different vendor platforms

Advantages of searching a native (single) database

  • smaller, more manageable number of search results
  • allows for more precise subject focusing, particularly in discipline-specific databases

Disadvantages of searching a native database

  • fewer search results and therefore fewer article abstracts and full text
  • greater possibility of missing useful articles because they are not published in a journal indexed in the database being searched

Advantages of simul-searching multiple databases by provider

  • more journals included in the search
  • larger number of search results
  • more article abstracts and full text

Disadvantages of simul-searching multiple databases by provider

  • larger number of search results to evaluate
  • repetition of records in search results

Advantages of Gemfinder Search

  • permits simul-searching databases provided by multiple vendors 
  • includes more books in search results than native databases do
  • useful for finding information on very obscure topics
  • useful for finding a native database launch point when the database hosting the bulk of needed information is unknown

Disadvantages of Gemfinder Discovery Search

  • not well suited for searching broad, heavily-researched topics (e.g., George Washington) 
  • number of search results harvested can be overwhelming
  • results harvested may have little or no relevance to the search performed
  • to both reduce results and improve relevance, may require more sophisticated search techniques (e.g., Fields) than needed for native databases                                                       






Database Simul-Searching

To simul-search HCL databases:

  • go to the library's Electronic Resources and Databases page (
  • scroll down to Frequently Used Resources
    • select the database vendor you wish to simul-search  
      • clicking on a database name will search only that database; clicking on a vendor should permit simul-searching that vendor's full database offerings available through Houston Cole Library