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Distance Learning: Articles and Databases

Library orientation and advice for students and faculty in distance/online classes.

Which Database to Use?

Each database in our collection contains a different group of periodicals.  There is some overlap--some periodicals appear in more than one database--but there is no one place you can search to see everything at once.  Therefore, it makes a big difference which database you choose.

  • If you know which database you want to use, you can access it via the A-Z list.  You might use this option if a professor has recommended a particular database, or if you have used the database before and remember the name. You may also choose this option if you want to read short summaries about each database.
  • You can also choose a database using the LibGuide for your major.  Click on the name of your department to see which databases the librarian recommends for your field.

Keep in mind that you may need to use more than one database to find the best resources for your project. If you want to try searching all the databases at once (not-recommended for beginning users) the library's Discovery Search does have this functionality. 

What if my article isn't full text?

Most databases contain some full-text articles and some citations and abstracts.  If your result is not full-text in the database you're using, look for a link that says "check availability" or "article linker."  In EBSCO databases, it looks like this:

Click the link to go to the Article Linker.  This tool automatically checks to see if we have the full text of that article in another database.  If we do, links will be provided to the article, journal, and database.  Sometimes, the link directly to the article won't work--don't be alarmed if you get an error message.  Just use the link to the journal or database, and search again for the article you wanted.

Step two in the article linker asks you to check the library catalog to see if we have that journal.  Often, you will get a message that, "the search obtained no results."  If the catalog says we have the journal, look carefully at the date range given, and compare it to the date of the article you want to access.  

Step three is interlibrary loan.  When you click on the interlibrary loan link from an article linker page, the ILL form is automatically filled out for you.  All you have to do is log in and submit your request.  

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Database Basics

Library databases provide access to the contents of hundreds of periodicals: newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals.   When searching a database:

  • Enter key words, rather than a complete sentence or question.

  • Observe how your results are sorted: many of the databases put the newest results first, rather than attempting to sort by relevance.  Your results set might still be good, even if the first item is not exactly what you wanted.

  • If you get no results, or too few results, think about synonyms or other ways of expressing your key words.

  • If you have one or two relevant results--or even one or two that are on the right track--use those records to get ideas for other search terms to try.

Database Tips

Shown: Advanced search page in EBSCO's Academic Search Complete.  Many of our databases use this interface.

1. When using a database, look for the Advanced Search option.  Advanced Search gives you several boxes.  Construct your search by putting one concept in each box.

2. Most databases search the item record for your search terms.  The item record includes the title of the article, the author, the title of the periodical it appeared in, subject terms, and the abstract (if there is one). 

Understand search modes:

  • "Phrase" mode searches for all of the words you enter, in the order you entered them, right next to each other.  For instance, if you type "diabetes education," you will see articles where the record has that exact phrase.  This option works well when the words you enter make up a commonly used phrase for expressing a single concept.

  • "Find all my search terms" looks for all of the words, but they don't have to be next to each other or in any particular order.  For the "diabetes education" search, you would get articles that have both "diabetes" and "education" in the record.  This option is effective when the words you enter express different concepts that might be discussed separately in a relevant article.

  • "FInd any of my search terms" brings up results where the item record includes any of the words you type in.  "Diabetes education" would bring up articles about either diabetes or education.  This option is effective when the words you type are synonyms for each other.  

Understand expanders: Expanders broaden your search and produce more results.

  • "Apply related words" means that the database automatically includes synonyms for your search terms.  This option is sometimes useful, sometimes gives you a lot of irrelevant results, so you have to experiment.

  • "Also search within the full text of the articles" means that the database will look for your terms in the text of the article, not just in the record.  (As noted above, the record includes the article title, author, periodical title, subject terms, and abstract.)  If an article is mostly about the topic you want, search terms for that topic should appear in the record; if your terms are in the full text but not the record, chances are your topic is not a main focus of the article.  However, if you're having trouble finding anything at all, this option may help you make some progress.

Understand limiters:  Limiters narrow the search, giving you fewer results.  Common limiters include:

  • Scholarly only (also known as peer-reviewed or refereed).  Scholarly articles are written by experts in the field, for other experts in the field.  They are usually longer and more in-depth than other articles.  You are likely to encounter assignments where you are required to use peer-reviewed (scholarly, refereed) sources; this option takes the guesswork out of deciding whether an article meets the requirement or not. 

  • Full text:  Most databases contain a mix of full text articles, where the whole article is right there, and citation and abstract entries.  Checking the "full text" box means that the database will only show you results where the full text is available in that database.  This option is handy and convenient if there is plenty of material out there about your topic, but some topics and assignments will require you to use the Article Linker and Interlibrary Loan to access the best sources.

  • Date:  Limit your results to articles published before or after a certain date, or within a certain date range.  It's common for assignments to specify that you need recent sources; with this limiter, you can make sure you are seeing only articles that meet your requirements. 

About Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary loan allows you to access materials that are not part of the library collection, by requesting them from another library.  Interlibrary Loan requests for articles are handled electronically:  the sending library will scan the article, and you'll receive an email with a link to where you can view it.  This process takes only a few days.  

If you find a citation and abstract in a database, but the article is not full-text, simply click the "check availablity" link on the result page.  Follow the steps to check if we have the full text somewhere else.  If not, step three is interlibrary loan.  

Click the "interlibrary loan form" link to get started.  On the next screen, you'll log in with your email address (including and your email password.

If it's your first time using ILLiad, the next screen will be a form to fill out with your contact information.  Make sure you enter a valid email address, since that is how you will be notified of where to view your article.  Submit the form, and you'll be taken to the article request page.  If you came in through an Article Linker, the form will be filled out for you:

Check that everything looks correct, click "submit request" and you're done!  When the article comes, you'll receive an email with a link to view it.