Skip to Main Content

Willis N. Hackney Library

Starting Your Research

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about beginning a research project.

Searching Guides

Database Tutorials

Basic Guide to Database Searching

See the "Getting Started" tab in this guide for tips on how to use this form.

Step by step guide to basic database searching:

  1. Create a research plan
    1. Use the plan to make a statement or question about the information you want
    2. Pull out keywords or phrases and think of at least 2 synonyms for each keyword
  2. Choose a database
    1. Choose databases by subject by going to our homepage, click on the “Subjects” tab (the default page is for "General/Reference" article databases; these databases cover almost all subjects or topics) 
    2. To change to a discipline-specific database, under "Select Desired Subject Page" in the top left, click on the drop-down arrow, and choose a discipline/subject area and click on it.
    3. The resulting databases beneath that drop-down menu will change, based on the subject area you chose.
    4. Click on a database, and begin searching using keywords/phrases, or synonyms.
  3. Analyze the Results
    1. First, skim the titles and abstracts. Are the results what you expected?
      1. If not, replace one search term with a synonym and repeat.
      2. Or, skim the Subject Terms for better search terminology
    2. Use limits to reduce the results to a manageable amount (20-30)
      1. ALWAYS limit to “peer-reviewed” if looking for scholarly journals
      2. Limit dates to get historic or current results
      3. Different databases offer different limits. Some offer intended audience, genre, intended use, geography, etc. Play around with the limits!
  4. Store the results
    1. Many databases have a storing button, like Add to folder or Add to favorites or Add Citation
      1. As you find relevant results add each one to your folder or favorites
        1. NOTE: you may need to sign in. Accounts should be free! DON’T EVER enter payment information.
      2. Export the folder via e-mail, or (if you created an account) you can always return to the results later.
    2. Another option is e-mailing article citations to yourself. Look for buttons that say Email or Export
    3. If you are unsure, write down the citation information:
      1. Author
      2. Article Title
      3. Journal Title (different from the article title)
      4. Volume Number (usually corresponds to the year of publication)
      5. Issue Number (corresponds to month/season of issue, but may not have one)
      6. Date
    4. You can always find the article again if you have a complete citation
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 in other databases
  6. If you don’t have immediate online access to an article, use JournalFinder to search for the journal title. (Go to our homepage, and click on "Search," and then “Journal Finder”, and type in name of journal, magazine, or newspaper)


Remember, you may not always have online access to an article. DON’T GIVE UP HOPE! You can request the article through Interlibrary Loan. Go to our homepage, under Quick Links near the bottom right of the homepage and click on ILL Request and click on the “Journals” tab.