Western Libraries

Picking the Right Database

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You have access to many databases through Western Libraries, but which ones are the best for your search? This tutorial will help you figure it out.

A database in the context of searching for literature is usually an organized collection of journal articles, article abstracts, and Conference Proceedings.  In some databases you can also find books, trade publications, theses, or other scholarly documents.  Some databases are subject-specific, and some may be multidisciplinary. You may need to search more than one database, especially if you are working on your thesis or dissertation.

When picking a database there are several parameters that you have to consider. Including:

One:  Does it cover the desired subject area?

Two: If the subject is covered, does it contain the key journals in this area?

Three: What is the time span for coverage?

Four:  What types of publications does it cover?

Five: How much overlap in content is there with other resources

Six: How often is it updated?

The first thing you have to ask yourself is whether it covers the desired subject area. For example, if your topic is related to mental health or psychology, you should search PsychInfo. If you are looking for statistics related information, check out E-STAT from Statistics Canada. On the other hand, some databases like Scopus are multidisciplinary, covering health, physical, and social sciences and humanities.

You have to make sure that the key journals in your area are covered by the database.

Ask yourself, what the time span for coverage is. For example, JSTOR is not useful for cutting edge topics since the most recent years of some journal articles are not available.

If you are looking for theses, check out ProQuest Dissertations and Theses which includes dissertation information for most universities in North America and the UK.

How much overlap in content is there with other resources? For instance, you might find some overlap between ProQuest Nursing and Allied Health Source and CINAHL, and also some articles that are unique to both databases.

Update frequency is important. Some databases can be updated daily, weekly, biweekly, and so on.

If you don’t know which database to use, check out the “Program Guides” area of the library website. (Note:  Our website has changed.  Program Guides are now called Research Guides.)  Pick the most appropriate subject and read the database descriptions provided to you on this page. 

Also, you can check out the “Help” or “About” section of the database for more details.

Picking the right database is very important for an efficient and effective search.

If you have any questions or doubts, take note of the subject librarians’ contact information, also available on the program guides page. They will be happy to assist you.