Library 101: How databases can transform your assignments

Whether you’re feeling trapped by your reading list or suffering from lit review paranoia, Library databases are the key to finding all those riveting articles for well-researched assignments and glittering bibliographies. Follow us into the wormhole …By Karina Beck.

Ever feel like something’s missing?

Is it possible that no one’s written anything credible on your essay title? How did you miss that seminal paper published by your very own tutor? And why has someone just handed you a journal article from last year which sends your hypothesis completely wonky?

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re either very unlucky, or you’re looking in the wrong places.  What follows – aside from a few cringe-worthy cultural references – is a crash course in the right places.

In a nutshell

A library database is your portal for searching across records from thousands of publishers or journals in just one place. Think insurance comparison site without the meerkats and welsh opera: you enter a set of criteria, and get results back from a range of sources without having to search each individually.

The virtues of big and little

Databases range from the broad and varied, where you can search across different disciplines, to the more niche which let you do very subject-specific searches. This is something like the difference between shopping at a department store or at individual brand outlets. You can find an entire outfit at Debenhams, but if you’re looking for a limited edition pair of Nike running shoes, you’re probably in the wrong place. You’ll likely find you need to pick and mix between the two, but if you’ve no idea where to start, see our database lists by subject or email academicsupport@warwick.ac.uk for more help.

Embrace your VIP status

Visiting databases via the Library website or Library Search is your “Access all areas” pass. As long as you take this route, you’ll be prompted to login with your Warwick Uni details and given access to any of the content we subscribe to on the sites that you visit. This may not get you on the red carpet, but you’ll be more likely to come across that lovely little PDF symbol than a frustrating demand for $40. If you can’t see a PDF or ‘full text’ link, click on the webbridge button, this will double check if we have access to the article elsewhere. It’s all terribly glamorous.

Houston, we have a problem

Searching thousands of journal articles, news reports or theses via a single portal is invaluable, but if you’re faced with 47,000 results to trawl through, there’s a danger you’ll get lost. To navigate your way through this information wormhole, you need to employ the search tools made available to you. Most databases will have an advanced search option where you can combine your key concepts, as well as filters to help you narrow your results. If you’re not sure how to use these features, drop us a few details at academicsupport@warwick.ac.uk. We’ll be happy to give you more advice, and can put you in touch with your subject specialist.

With a bit of practice you’ll soon be finding relevant and stimulating articles to bolster your arguments and impress your marker. Set phasers to stun.

Try these top 5 search tips next!

SB001 sherlock

Image: Tacoma Glass Museum Cone Zone/Wonderlane/CC BY 2.0

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