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International Business 3000 : Global Perspectives: Searching Databases

Course guide for INTB 3000 (University of Colorado Denver).

Searching Databases

Learning to search databases effectively is one of the most important research skills you can develop. In this section, you will learn about choosing a database, developing basic search skills, and troubleshooting when your search doesn't work out. The section ends with a few practice searches that you may want to try.

You can access all of Auraria Library's databases from off campus. At some point you will be asked for your school credentials.

Activity: Practice Using Databases

Ready to try out your new skills? Here are a few ways to practice. 

  1. Try doing the same search in Academic Search Premier and then a subject-area database of your choice. How are your results different? Do you get more relevant articles in one or the other? Does the subject-specific database give you many more articles?
  2. Try the same search in two databases in the same subject area. You might try PsycInfo and Psychology-Sage. Do you get many of the same articles? Are the search options different?
  3. Search for a very, very specific topic. Then try making your search a little more general. Get rid of some of your keywords. Notice how relevant the results are after each search.
  4. Play around with some of the more advanced features of a database. Click the "help" link if you need advice on how to use them.

Basic Search Skills

One great thing about databases is that most use similar search strategies. The skills you develop while searching one database will help you search most others.

A Good Basic Search

You can accomplish quite a lot by simply entering keywords and publication dates. Think of a few words related to your topic, and enter them in the search boxes. Typically you can leave the menu next to the keywords set to the default--or set it to "keyword." Then think about how recent you want your articles to be.

If you've got more specific needs—such as finding all articles written by AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho--try changing your search strategy. In this case, you could set the menu to "Author" and search for David Ho. (Note that for author searches, it's a good idea to search for last name comma first name: Ho, David.)


Experimenting with synonyms for your search terms can help you find many, many more results. Before starting a search, you may want to make a list of all the terms you can think of using. Then try searching with them in various combinations. As you're looking through your results, watch out for additional synonyms. You may want to add these to your list of search terms.

Boolean Searching

Boolean searching just means using the words "and," "or," and "not" strategically in your search. Many databases provide you with little menus with these Boolean terms. Here's how to use each term:


"And" is pretty straightforward. If you search for cats and dogs, all the articles you get will discuss both cats and dogs.


If you search for cats or dogs, you will get articles that discuss only cats, only dogs, or both. The "or" option can help you accomplish several searches in one. For example, if you're researching calligraphy in both China and Japan, you could do this search: "calligraphy and China or Japan." (No quotes necessary.) Also, see how you can use more than one Boolean term in a single search?


Not can help you get rid of results that don't interest you. Say you're researching global warming, and for whatever reason, you're not interested in the problem of melting icebergs. You could search for global warming not icebergs.

Wildcard Searching:

Most databases let you do a wildcard search using an asterisk (*). Putting the asterisk after letters searches for any words that start with those letters. So if you searched for paint*, you would get results for paint, paints, painters, painted, paintbrushes, paintings, and more.


No matter what what your research topic is, you'll have to try a number of searches. There's almost never a "perfect" set of search terms. Still having a hard time? Go on to the "Troubleshooting" section at the bottom of this page.

Choosing a Database

When you have a research question in mind, deciding where to find information is an important step toward finding answers. Some of the main decisions you will have to make are:

  • Should you use a free database or a subscription database? (covered in the "About databases" section)
  • Should you use a multidisciplinary database or a subject-specific database?
  • Which subject area is your question in?

Multidisciplinary databases such as Academic Search Premier and Academic OneFile provide information on a wide variety of subject areas--the humanities, mathematics, health, environmental science, and so on. Subject-specific databases such as PsycInfo provide information on a much narrower range of topics. If you are researching a question in psychology, you could find information in either type of database. However, PsycInfo would search a much larger number of psychology journals than Academic Search Premier would. So, if you only need a small number of articles, or you aren't sure which subject area is in, using a multidisciplinary database for your research may meet all your needs. If you need many articles, and know which subject area you're working with, go ahead and try a subject-specific database.

Choosing a subject area can be more challenging that you would expect. Real-life questions don't fit neatly into categories. Think of this question: "How do parents' incomes affect the nutrition level of their children's school lunches?" Is it an education question? A social work question? A medical question? A public policy question? All of the above! So how would you begin your research? Think about what kind of answer you want to develop. Are you interested in the physical effects of this nutrition? If so, start with a medical database. You can always find additional interesting support from databases in other subject areas later.

Usually there's no perfect research strategy. You'll probably want to try a number of search strategies, and use multiple databases if you need to gather a great deal of information.


Not finding the articles you want? Here are a few troubleshooting tricks to try:

  1. Check for misspelled words. Databases are picky.
  2. Try substituting different keywords. I recently tried a search on rebuilding in Iraq and found surprisingly little. When I tried searching for reconstruction in Iraq, I found many articles.
  3. Get a little less specific. Say you're researching the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly's preferred habitats in southern Colorado, but you can only find one article on that topic. Articles about butterflies in Colorado, the Pipevine Swallowtail's habitats in general, and so on, can help you find what you need. Librarians often start by making a super-specific search, then move toward more general terms if necessary.
  4. And finally--try a different database. You may discover, for example, that articles on nursing of schizophrenic patients is covered more thoroughly in psychology databases than in nursing databases. You may also want to try a multidisciplinary database to get an idea of what's out there.