How to use resources: Using databases

Using databases

Databases are online, searchable collections of information. In an academic context, that information is usually research literature, like journal articles or primary works, scholarly material such as texts or creative sources, news or magazine issues, or financial, health, social or economic data. While we recommend you begin your literature search by searching in the Library Search, databases offer a more comprehensive and expert place to find information. Databases are owned and maintained by academic publishers or research/professional organisation. They often have a subject specialism, which helps you to focus on the literature in your discipline, or they might be multi and inter-disciplinary, providing a broad view of the literature. 

It's useful to use databases when:

  • you can't find what you need on the Library Search
  • you need to conduct a comprehensive search of literature
  • you need to find law resources
  • you need to find statute or patents
  • you need to find market research
  • you need to find raw financial data

Databases can be smaller collections of journals, or tools to find specific types of information, eg market research or financial data.

If you know the database you wish to search, try our Databases A-Z.  Or, if you are unsure which database is best for your subject, recommended examples are given within our collection of Subject Guides.

Searching by keyword

As part of your research you may want to find relevant journal articles in the databases, but don't have particular examples.  You will need to search for these by keywords.

Keywords are important terms in your research question. They might refer to a specific group of people/organisation/setting you are researching, the area under investigation or interest, or what you can are trying to measure, evaluate or understand. 

You can disregard non specific terms, words that form the question or instructions in your research question. 

To take the example question:

'Evaluate how can university teaching be changed to improve learning outcomes for dyslexic students?'

The most important concepts in this question are: 

  • The group and setting - dyslexic students, university
  • The area under investigation - Teaching
  • The area you are trying to measure a change in: learning outcomes 

You don't need to search with terms like 'Evaluate' as these are instructions on how to answer the question. You also don't need to search with non specific terms like 'improve' as there are lots of ways to express or write about this. 

For this question, useful keywords to search in combination would be: 'dyslexic students' AND university AND teaching AND 'learning outcomes' 

This requires the database to find a match for your keywords in the title, abstract or publication information of a source. Having relevant keywords will increase the likelihood the results you see will answer your question.

Taking the time to consider your keywords before you begin your search will help you find research more effectively.  

It is also useful to think about whether you should also include some alternative terms or synonyms for a keyword, or whether the word might be articulated differently. 

- In this example, you might think about whether 'university' might also be expressed as 'Higher Education' or whether you could also search for universities, not just the singular term. This might result in a larger set of results that can answer your question. 

Search Library resources

Our discovery tool, Library Search, will look for books, journal articles and more in one quick easy search - a great place to start your research. The results list also includes full-text links to subscribed content, like articles and textbooks. 

To search Library 'Search all' you can use keywords relevant to your topic, author names or the title of the source. 


For a more comprehensive search, individual databases offer greater functionality and give full access to a tailored suite of resources for your subject. To find out the database available in your subject, look for your programme in our Subject Guides, or you can view and access all our Databases alphabetically on the Databases A-Z webpage.

Search for books only (does not include all electronic books):

Search for full-text articles:

Search or browse for journals/periodicals:

Journal title begins with

Browse periodicals by subject

Browse periodical titles

0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Other

Database search tips

Each database works in a slightly different way, so check their help pages for advice.

Common search functions they usually share include:

Tip 1: Search where...?

Databases will usually let you choose where to search for your keywords, eg within

  • Abstract
  • Title

This is useful when your search returns too many results.

Tip 2: Connect with OR

This can be a real timesaver when searching for similar keywords eg

  • UK OR "united kingdom" OR britain

Tip 3: "Quotation marks"

When searching for phrases it's useful to enclose them in quotation marks eg "higher education".  This will look for the phrase 'higher education' rather than the individual words, 'higher' and 'education'.

And last, but certainly not least:

Tip 4: Review your keywords!

A database will only find what you tell it to search for. If it doesn’t find what you need, review your keywords.