Searching a database for journal articles or essays can be a frustrating experience. Many searches yield only meager results, none of which seem to be about the topic one was hoping to find, while others turn up hundreds of citations, so many that it is hard to spot the gems, if they exist, amid the clutter. The all-too-common reaction is to give up -- either assuming that there is nothing written on the topic, or being unwilling to spend precious time sorting through screens of citations that don’t look promising to begin with. Is this just the way it is? Is there nothing to be done but suffer through, or try one’s luck with an internet search?
Arise, discouraged searchers, and take heart! You are not left without options. In many instances the search software of the database you are using has the ability to refine a search in several ways in order to eliminate the dross from search results, leaving you the gold. What are these refining features? They vary by database, but generally fall into several categories. Here, briefly, are a few possibilities.
- Subject headings: For those databases that have indexer assigned subject headings, first scan the records retrieved from your initial search to find headings that look particularly relevant, then redirect the search using those headings.
- Limiters: For a search that retrieves a large number of citations, consider limiting by date, language, or publication type (essay, book, review, etc.) to eliminate records of little use or interest
- Relevance: Re-arrange your results by relevance to bring records where your search terms appear in titles or subject headings (presumed most relevant) to the top of the list.
Shown here is the standard search interface for EBSCO databases. Our library subscribes to several, including
the ATLA Religion Database. A close look
at the functions and features of the EBSCO interface will be the subject of our
first noon forum this semester on Wednesday, April 21, in GH103. We hope you can attend, but most importantly,
when you next find yourself doing a database search, consider ways that the
search interface can work in your favor to drill to the best information while
saving you time in the process – the keys to the kingdoms (of information) in
B. Eldevik, Reference Librarian