Academic Skills Blog - databases

Let us shine a light on tips and tools to support your research process. This week: Databases

screen shot of WoS

There are two main categories that you’ll come across when looking for resources through Cambridge’s A-Z listing.

Citation databases

These are ones which index the details of books, journal articles, conference proceedings etc. but don’t actually provide the content. Only by connecting to a citation database on the university network or through Raven, will you be able to access content which is subscribed to by the university. If you aren't sure what we subscribe to and constantly find that you are hitting paywall, install Lean Library. It integrates subscription access with the Open Access alternative. However, with citation databases, you will always come across a title that looks relevant, but which you don’t have access to. If this is the case, you can request that Wolfson College Library purchases a book  or order an article through Inter-library Loans.

Before you even start searching, it is worth spending some time planning what you are looking for: what question are you trying to answer? do you want everything ever published, or just the most up-to-date research? how much information can you deal with today? how will you store what you find? Visit the Wolfson Library LibGuide for more information about search strategies.

There are a huge range of citation databases out there, from subject-specific indexes to cross-disciplinary tools. If you’re not sure where to start have a look at the drop-down subject menu on the databases page.

In order to demonstrate some of the features of a citation database, we are going to focus on Web of Science, mainly because it touches on most subject areas, to a greater or lesser extent. It indexes material from 1900 in the Sciences and 1975 in the Arts. It contains records for 33 000 journals, 160 000 conference proceedings, 50 000 books (from 2005) and altogether there are more than 90 million records. By default you search ‘topic’ but to get the most relevant results, ALWAYS use the advanced search options that enable you pinpoint terms in the title, abstract, author, keyword, publication or year. In the results screen, click on ‘@cam-find full text’ to see if you can read the whole article.

In addition to providing you with a series of titles and abstracts to follow up, it specialises in linking articles together. An article is fixed in time at the point of publication. Everything in its bibliography/list of references was published before. Everything that has cited it has been published since. Conduct a search, click on an article title and connect to all this related literature from the box in the top right of the screen. This is a great way to save you time when conducting a literature search. If other scholars have already carried out a search and made critical judgements about the relevance of an article, why repeat it the process?

Google Scholar is also a citation database but to ensure you get the most from it, we’re going to give it its own post in due course.

Full-text databases

These allow to you to search AND view the resource within the database.

To access nearly 200 of these, go the the A-Z database listing  and chose ‘Full-text’ from the drop down menu headed with ‘All database types’. If you are unsure what they contain, hover over the ‘i’ icon next to the title.

Many index primary sources such as plays, poems, letters, legislation, government documents, NGO policies, newspapers. These remarkable collections give researchers  access to historic and current resources that would previously only have been possible by visiting an archive. Even if you don’t anticipate using them in your academic work, do have a look at some of the amazing treasures held in these resources!

Other full-text databases, including JStor, PsycARTICLES, Westlaw and MathSciNet, give you access to academic articles. Just like citation databases, you can login and make use of personalisation features such as saving searches to be rerun at a later date. Some go up to the present day; others have an embargo and index material up to the last 5 years or so. Again, hovering over the ‘i’ icon should give you an indication of their coverage.

Relevant full-text databases in your field are accessible from the ‘All subjects’ drop down menu or on your subject LibGuide.

So, explore these resources for both work and leisure!