Skip to main content

Foundations - Library Resources: Searching & Retrieving Materials in the Databases

Introduction

Online research is a key skill for Walden coursework.  Success depends upon your ability to find good resources in order to respond to discussion posts, finish assignments, write papers, and ultimately complete a study for your capstone.  This guide will introduce you to the basics of online searching in the Walden Library, including:

  • choosing the best databases for your research topic
  • performing successful searches that retrieve relevant results
  • evaluating those results and using articles that will meet your needs

Choosing a good database

The Walden Library collections are held in databases.  These databases are collections of books, journals, magazines, newspapers, reports, and more.  Using the database search page, you enter search termsand the database will retrieve all the items that match those terms.  

The Walden Library has over 100 different databases to use, including:

  • multidisciplinary databases, which contain journals and periodicals in a variety of subject areas
  • subject specific databases, which contain journals covering research in that subject area (such as medical journals, psychology journals, management journals, etc.)  

 

So with all of these collections available to you, where do you start?  First, identify what you need to find.  Are you looking for a scholarly (or peer-reviewed) research articles, or statistics, or a measurement instrument for a study?

Then, go to the databases that are relevant to your topic.  The Walden Library has subject research pages, with lists of recommended databases and other resources useful for research in that area.  To find your subject research page, follow these steps:

1. Go to the Subject Resources box.

2. Click on Select a subject and choose the subject most closely related to your topic.  

Hint:  Often, this will be the program you are studying, but sometimes your topic may be covered in other subject areas as well.  If you are uncertain, contact Ask a Librarian.

3. On the subject research page, explore the list of recommended databases, and the other resources available there too.  In general, the database lists start with the largest, broadest databases for that subject at the top, with smaller or more specialized databases as you go down the list.  Read the database description to learn what the database holds and whether it will meet your needs.

 

Test yourself:   Find your subject research page by following the steps described above.  Browse the list of recommended databases.  Which might you use for your own research?

Read through the brief descriptions of the databases;  pay attention to whether they seem to be a mix of scholarly and general literature, or if they hold only peer-reviewed research journals.   Sometimes you might need to focus on peer-reviewed items;  other times, you might need to find news stories and media coverage, which likely wouldn't be found in a peer-reviewed journal.  Choose a database with content appropriate to your needs to get the best research results!

Find items in the databases with Keyword Searching

Keywords are the search terms that you use to describe the topic you want to retrieve.  The database will word-match your keywords against the text of the article, and deliver results that match what you enter.

You can tell the database how to look for those words:  

  • Do you want it to find the word anywhere in the whole article, or only in specific fields such as the title or the abstract? 
  • How should it combine your keywords?  Should it look for all of the keywords?  Or can it look for any of the synonyms that you provide?  See our guide on how to enter your keywords to retrieve comprehensive, precise results.

The databases can only word match. Databases look for the exact words and phrases you type in. 

This means you should:

  • break your topic into individual keywords
  • brainstorm the words an author might use
  • avoid phrases, in general.  

Tip: Unless your phrase happens to match the article exactly, the database won’t retrieve it.  Sometimes a phrase might be helpful.  For example, mom and pop store is a useful synonym for small family-owned business.  If you're not getting many results, try simplifying your phrase to just a word or two.

 

See our guides on how to define your topic and Keyword Search Strategy for more help with keyword search success.

Video: Keyword and Subject Searching

(3 min 23 sec) Recorded Jan 2016
Transcript 

Viewing the full article

To read the article, you'll need to open the full text version of it, which typically is offered next to the article's citation in the database.

Article citation showing links to full-text options in HTML or PDF 

 

Many articles have only one full text option, and a full-text PDF is most common.  Some may offer two options:

  1. HTML Full Text: displays the article as regular web text. This might omit the original page numbers and graphics like photos and charts (view).
  2. PDF Full Text: shows the article exactly as it appears when published in print, with the same formatting, page numbers, charts, graphs, etc. (view). 

Choose which option you prefer, and click to open and view the article.  If you're having problems opening PDFs, find more help in our PDF Help guide.

Looking at your results: Did you find what you need?

There's no one perfect way to search. Sometimes you may simply need to find one or two articles, and doing a quick search that gets plenty of results to choose from will work well. Other times, you may need to find everything that's been written on a particular topic. In that case, you'll need to think carefully about choosing which databases to search, and you'll spend some time discovering the best search terms to use.

As you look at the articles in your results list, scan the titles to see if any look intriguing.  Click the article title to go to the citation page and spend another minute reading through the abstract (summary). This will tell you more about the article and the research being presented. The authors may describe their methodology or conclusions.  If the article looks useful to you, then you can invest the time to read it more thoroughly.  Don't spend time on every article in your results!  And don't be disappointed if you see irrelevant articles that show up  It's far easier to skip past irrelevant articles in your results than it is to craft a highly-specific search that may unintentionally eliminate useful articles.

Also, when you find a relevant article, look at the subject terms that are assigned to it on the citation page. This can give you ideas for other search terms to use for future searches.

 

Subject terms on an article citation page