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University Library DePaul Library

Database Searching DO's & DON'Ts

Here's how to avoid common pitfalls and sources of confusion when using databases and other online resources to help you find, evaluate and analyze information relating to your chosen topic or research question: 

  • Do make use of the library's "How To" Tutorials & Guides.
  • Do Ask A Librarian if you have any questions about choosing or searching databases.
  • DON'T check the box marked "Full Text" (located in upper left of the search page) in EBSCO databases such as CINAHL; PsycInfo; or Academic Search Complete. Checking that box will exclude search results whose full text can be found via "Find Full Text @ DePaul" links. 
  • DO search in more than one database. To get a comprehensive representation of available literature on your chosen topic, you'll need to search several different databases. Each database contains content from a limited selection of journals and other publication types. Though there is some overlap in content coverage between different databases, any single database (e.g. PubMed) contains content that won't be found in another (e.g. CINAHL, or PsycInfo). Sorry, but there's no 'one stop shopping' when it comes to finding articles for your lit review!
  • DON'T set search limits or filters before thinking about what they will exclude from your results. Instead, consider to what extent the value and relevance of your results will depend upon:
  • Publication Date: Is older literature likely to have something useful to say about your topic?  Conversely, has discussion of your research concept emerged or developed only recently?
  • Language: Does it make sense to exclude literature published in a non-English language? Authors whose first language is represented by the communities or populations you're interested in may themselves write and publish in a non-English language. Foreign language materials may also provide references to additional English language materials on your topic.
  • Publication Type: Do 'non-scholarly' and non-academic publications (e.g. 'trade' journals/professional association newsletters) have something useful and valid to say about your topic, or can you safely exclude them and limit your searches to include a more limited range of publication types (e.g. scholarly/academic journal articles)?
  • Geographical Term/Subset: Within any particular database, you will find that many of the articles relating to your geographic scope of interest (e.g. the United States) will not be indexed (i.e. 'tagged') with the corresponding geographical term or heading (e.g. "United States"). It's usually worth experimenting and comparing results--using versus not using geographic terms/limiters--to see what you miss when including them in your searches.‚Äč
  • Don't use the "NOT" Boolean Operator--unless the term you do not want to appear in your search results is associated exclusively with concepts that are unrelated to your research topic. For example, stating: NOT "Diabetes Type 2" will have the effect of excluding any results that cover both Diabetes Type 2 and Diabetes Type 1 in the same article, meaning that you lose a lot of content about Diabetes Type 1 that would have been useful.
  • Don't forget to always seek clarification from your instructor when you need help understanding or correctly interpreting instructions or guidelines associated with your specific assignment.
  • Don't forget to identify alternate words or phrases that authors and databases may use to express each of the main concepts in your research question (e.g." medication compliance" OR "medication adherence"). 
  • Do experiment with the use of  " " quotes around phrases - it's often best to start without quotation marks, then compare with the results you obtain with quotes (thereby searching for those exact phrases). Determine what you gain/lose in terms of retrieval and relevance of your search results. 
  • Don't be too quick to judge the likely value of an article by its title. Title words won't necessarily communicate your topic in a way that's familiar or readily apparent. Instead, open the record of the article and evaluate its likely usefulness by examining the subject headings, abstract, and if necessary, the full text.
  • Don't begin your scholarly research project in Google. Instead, start by using the databases provided by and made accessible through the DePaul Library website (e.g. via Library Research Guides for Nursing; Public Health; Psychology; Health Sciences). Unlike Google, databases provide productive and efficient mechanisms for identifying, evaluating, and managing the available body of knowledge and evidence relating to your research question or topic.
  • Do use Google Scholar if/when you...
    • want quick access to an article and you have citation information (partial or complete), after setting your Google Scholar Settings (in "Library Links") so it shows those all-important "Find Full Text @ DePaul" links
    • anticipate submitting an InterLibrary Loan article request and first need to check if it might be freely-available online
    • want to trace which & how many "Cited by" articles relate to a particular article you're interested in
  • Don't assume that health/medicine/nursing databases will contain all the valuable and pertinent literature on your topic. Think about the different disciplines and fields of study where authors publish and communicate your chosen topic (e.g. business; informatics/computing; psychology; religious studies; sociology; communication). Firstly, identify and explore those interdisciplinary aspects using sources of Background Information provided in this guide. Then identify and search in appropriate subject databases provided in the library's Research Guides-By Subject.

Research Tip: Try Searching Across Multiple EBSCO Databases

WHY?  Each database contains a particular selection of journals, and consequently it is necessary to search more than one database in order to get a comprehensive representation of the literature on your topic or research question. Database providers "ESBCO" and "ProQuest" each provide a selection of different databases that can be searched simultaneously (versus one-at-a-time), which can be an efficient way to discover useful content over a wider range of sources (other important databases, such as PubMed, ScienceDirect, & Web of Science, need to be searched individually).


WHICH DATABASES?  Depending on your topic, several of the databases provided by the information providers "EBSCO" or "ProQuest" may provide useful materials. Those that are frequently useful for nursing and health-related topics include (but are not limited to):

"EBSCO" Databases:

  • CINAHL Complete
  • APA PsycInfo
  • Academic Search Complete
  • HealthSource (Nursing/Academic Edition)


"ProQuest" Databases:

  • Nursing & Allied Health Database
  • Sociology Collection
  • GenderWatch


HOW TO ACCESS?  Open any one of the above EBSCO databases then click "Choose Databases":


HOW TO CHOOSE?  Scope notes help identify databases most likely to provide useful information:


More Research Methods & Guidance

More Guidance on Searching Databases