Database Searching

Using this guide

The Database Searching Library Guide has been designed to introduce you to the range of databases available at CQUniversity Library, and to some search techniques and strategies that will help you.

Researching your discipline literature

Every discipline has its own literature. The content of this literature reflects the nature of the individual discipline: engineering will utilise different sources to medical imaging or environmental science.

However, despite the differences between disciplines, they all utilise journals as a critical source of information. New research is communicated and reviewed in the journal literature, and all disciplines have their key journals. Many of these journals will have a very specific focus, for example:

Cell Biology and Toxicology
Environmental Chemistry
Engineering Failure Analysis
Cognitive Therapy and Research
Clinical Nursing Research

To research the journal literature relevant to your discipline, you need to use journal databases. Some databases contain information that is specific to one subject area (e.g.: health, education, engineering, law), whilst others are multidisciplinary and cover a range of subject areas.

Note: There are databases which focus just on a specific type of information, like Standards Australia, but these will not be discussed in this module. Information about these databases can be obtained from the Selecting Databases page.

What about the web?

When people talk about "searching the web" they are usually referring to a search engine (like Google), which scans millions of pages. Because the web is unstructured, there is no control over the organisation of these resources. The level, quality, authenticity and currency of information varies not only from site to site, but also from page to page within sites.

Databases, on the other hand, are unique entities: each database is developed, structured and maintained to meet specific information needs. Databases are much more focussed on both specific subject areas and specific types of information: journal articles (original research and reviews), conference proceedings, book chapters, and reports. If you search a database highly relevant to your subject area, you should be able to identify significant publications - and authors - in the field. You should also be able to 'track' research in the field over a set timeframe.

Many databases are extremely expensive and will never be freely available on the web. However, the web has provided the technology to enable some databases to move into the public arena where they can be freely accessed by all. One example is PubMed, the premier index to medical literature. Some of the new biodatabases that have evolved as a result of rapidly expanding knowledge in the biosciences/biotechnology areas are both freely available on the web, and the primary source of information in the area (for example, RSCB Protein Bank).

For a succinct comparison of database and web search engines, select the 'Beyond the web' tag on this link:

The video below, produced by the Wellington Medical and Health Sciences Library at the University of Otago, runs for just under 3 minutes and provides a good overview of the differences between searching the web and searching databases.