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Assessing an Information Need: Hints and tips for selecting and using databases

Need information? To save yourself time and frustration, the first step is figuing out what you need and where to find it.

Hints for Selecting An Online Database

While there are many types of information resources available in the Mulford Library, the most commonly used resources are the online databases. Online Databases cover a wide range of subjects and formats. Here is a chart to help you decide which database is appropriate for your need. Access to these resources is available from the Libraries’ web page. Please note that though these databases may contain citations, abstracts, and full text, not every article will be available in full text. The Articles LibGuide provides information on how to obtain and order articles.

Alt HeathWatch Literature on alternative and complementary health care and wellness
BIOSIS Previews Biological and medical literature; indexes journal items (articles, letters, reviews, etc.) focusing on vital biological and medical research findings, pharmacological studies, and discoveries of new organisms
Child Welfare Info Gateway Literature on child abuse and neglect
CINAHL Plus Nursing and allied health information; indexes journal articles, books, book chapters, dissertations, research instruments, nurse practice acts, etc.
Embase Medicine and health care; particularly strong in pharmacologic research
PubMed@UT Information on medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, health care administration, and the preclinical sciences. Use the PubMed@UT link for easy access to the online journals to which we subscribe.
PsycINFO Psychology and mental health information; indexes journal articles, dissertations, reports, English-language book chapters and books from the literature of psychology, education, business, medicine, nursing, law, and social work


Hints for Translating an Information Need into Commands the System Can Understand

You’ve assessed your information need and determined that you need to use an online database to identify resources on your topic. The next step is to translate the information need into commands the online system can understand.

1. Check the Libraries LibGuides for help materials for the selected resource. Also, check the resource’s online help.

2. When searching a resource that uses subject headings (subject tags) in addition to quick searches.

3. Some databases may also have other options for refining the search:

  • Expand/Explode: Search subject heading, plus all narrower subject headings
  • Focus: Search subject heading as the main topic of the retrieved records
  • Subheadings: Restrict a subject heading search to one or more facets of the topic, such as diagnosis, therapy, epidemiology, analysis, economics, history, etc.
  • Limits: Limit search to age group, human, English language, journal subsets, research articles, review articles, etc.

4. For a complex search with a number of components, search for each main component separately, then combine them using the appropriate operator. For more information on complex searching, in a particular database, please see the individual database’s help sheet.

AND: Use and to narrow the search results to just those that have the two (or more) sets in common; this is the most commonly used operator; example: school health services and pregnancy in adolescence

OR: Use or to broaden the search results; this is commonly used between sets that are synonymous in terms of the search; example: advanced practice nurses or advanced nursing practice