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ELISE | Informing your studies tutorial: Databases


Quiz question There may be a quiz question related to the information on this page.

Which database?

Find databases relevant to your
topic using:

  • Subject Guides
    Introduce you to the key databases in a subject area
  • Databases link
    Search for relevant databases using keywords, e.g environment. You can also browse through an alphabetical list of databases

Search tips

For more advice on searching databases use the Search health check on the Advanced research skills tab.

Why use a database?

Scholarly information relevant to your studies can be found by searching databases.


  • index a range of journals in a particular field of study
  • publish new journal articles regularly
  • can also index book chapters, conference proceedings, government and technical reports
  • can be specialised or multidisciplinary
  • contain records that include subject terms or descriptors. These terms can help improve the quality of your searches

UNSW Library databases have been evaluated and selected by subject specialists.

Using Library databases is an efficient way of searching a wide spectrum of literature. For example, if you are looking for literature on psychology, you would search PsycINFO, the premier psychology database, rather than searching individually through all the psychology journals in the library. A database search applies your keywords to hundreds of psychology journals. This will result in a greater number of relevant articles.

Tip  Read more about databases on the Academic information page, under the Discover tab

Searching databases (CC-BY-NC video)



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Searching databases

Step 1: Analyse your topic for its key concepts.

For example, your question is:

"Discuss the impact of global warming on Australia’s water supply."

When you analyse your topic, look for the key concepts.

For this question, the key concepts are global warming, water supply, and Australia.

Step 2: Decide on the keywords you will use as search terms.

For this topic there are three concepts, so your keywords or phrases could include:

   Concept 1: global warming, climate change, climatic change

   Concept 2: rainfall, water, drought

   Concept 3: Australia, Australasia

Step 3: Combine your search terms using Boolean logic when you are searching.

The Boolean operators, AND, OR and NOT, have special functions when they are used between search terms.

In this case, use the word AND. Your database search would be:

   climate change and water and Australia

Look at your results. You will see that they are focused closely on the topic.

To increase the number of search results or broaden your search you can combine the alternative terms you have identified with the Boolean operator OR.

You will now retrieve an even larger set of results:

   (climat* change or global warming ) and (water or drought or rainfall) and Austral*

Note: * is a truncation symbol that will search for everything starting with the first few letters of the word, for example, climat* will search for climate, climatic, climates, climatology

Helpful hints for database searching

Was your search unsuccessful?

  • is your spelling correct? British and American spelling may differ: e.g. a Boolean search for colour OR color will find both search terms
  • are you using the most appropriate database for your topic? Librarians can help you
  • are you just typing in your essay question? This is usually not successful. Always use keywords, with AND or OR as linking terms
  • was your search too narrow? if you use too many search terms you may retrieve fewer search results

Were the articles you found not related to your topic?

  • did you use OR when you should have used AND? e.g.
               greenhouse effect or australia instead of greenhouse effect and australia


  • are your terms too broad? your essay may mention a broad topic like climate change, but if you were looking for a specific aspect of climate change, use those terms in your search, e.g. ice cap and antarctica
  • use the database's thesaurus or index. These list the subject headings used by the database to categorise articles.
    An education database might use more than one term to describe the same thing, for example,
    higher education, tertiary education and post-secondary education are all alternative terms for university education.
    A database from America might use terms differently to an Australian database, e.g. college instead of university.