A database is an online repository of organized information. The information in a database is organized by information such as author names, subject headings, keywords, dates, publishers, titles, etc. Examples include: JSTOR, EBSCOHost, the library catalog, etc.
A search engine, on the other hand, is a digital tool used to find information. They do not actually contain (or often own) the information being searched. Examples include: Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Google Scholar.
Our friends at Yavapai Community College created this tutorial to explain why you should use library databases instead of the open web for research.
Use these operators to fine tune your search results. Not all databases use these, but many do. When in doubt, check the database's "Help" pages for additional information on which operators to use.
AND: "global warming AND carbon" (searches for articles that contain both phrases)
OR: "global warming OR climate change" (searches for articles that contain either phrase)
NOT: "global warming NOT Al Gore" (searches for articles on global warming that do not mention Al Gore)
An asterisk (*) can be used as a substitute for one or multiple characters at the end of a word. A question mark (?) can be used to replace a single character anywhere within a word. Examples:
environment* (searches for environmental, environment, environments, etc.)
politi* (searches for politics, political, politicians, etc.)
wom?n (searches for woman or women)
Use your course readings: Take a look at your required readings and the bibliographies/references listed at the end. What essential words are used in the titles of these works?
Discover subject headings: Found at least one book or article that is relevant to your research? Take a look at the subject headings used in the library catalog (for books) or databases to describe the item and use those for search terms instead.
Use a thesaurus: Find additional synonyms and related terms for your topic using a thesaurus.
Quite often, you may search for something in a library database and get no results. Don't fret. Here are some tips for expanding your search.
Additionally, be aware that some information may not be found in scholarly articles and books (e.g. very recent events, raw data, copyrighted images). If you are unsure of where to go for specific types/formats of information, contact a librarian for help.
While it may be comforting to get thousands of search results from a database, having too many results will not do you much good if the article/book you're looking for is at the end of the list. Here are some tips for narrowing your search: