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Develop a Search Strategy

What is a database?

A database is a collection of information organized for ease of retrieval. Common materials found in a database include:

  • magazine, newspaper, or journal articles
  • books and book chapters
  • dissertations and theses
  • conference papers
  • statistical data
  • images, audio files, and video

A big plus to using a database is that it often contains content you can't easily find or access through a general Internet search (i.e., Google or Bing).

How do I choose a database for my research?

The database you need will likely change as your research changes, so here are some things to consider to help you figure out where to start.

  • Do we have a How Do I guide on your topic? How Do I guides are among the best places to start because we've narrowed down the database options. We cover many common topics through How Do I, so take a quick look to see if your topic is covered.
  • Do we have an FAQ on your topic? The next best place to look is our FAQs. We've provided answers and research strategies to common questions we see through our Ask Us service.
  • Is your topic subject-specific, or does it cover multiple subjects? If your topic is subject-specific, like researching nursing, you'll likely benefit from starting on one of our subject pages. If it isn't, like researching time management, you might consider searching one of our multidisciplinary databases or using the library search.
  • Filter the Research Databases page by subject and type. These filters help you narrow down the database list to a smaller list. Many subjects included recommended databases, which can be great places to start your research if you're unsure where to begin.
  • Read the database descriptions. Each description describes when to use each database. Some also contain information about the type of researcher who typically uses the database, such as beginning researchers or doctoral students.
  • Ask our librarians through Ask Us. Submit your research topic or question, and we'll offer database suggestions and search strategies to help you find the information you need.
understanding research topic
Explains the importance of using of a variety of source types and background resources to fully understand your research topic.
types of sources for research
Tips on selecting a resource appropriate to your information need, the importance of analyzing a resource's capabilities and constraints, and determining a resource's quality.
how to choose a database
Learn how to determine your assignment's information need, locate the different types of library databases, and how to identify its specific features.

What are the differences between the databases?

Let's break down our databases into three broad categories and review the pros and cons of each.

Library search 

The library search is the search box found on the library home page or by selecting Search on the menu.


  • Searches most of the library at once
  • Easy to use
  • Allows you to cover a lot of information in a single search

When to use:

  • If you're trying to educate yourself on your topic
  • If you need to search a lot of content at once or cover multiple subjects
  • If you don't need specialty content
  • If you don't need to conduct a comprehensive literature review

Keep in mind:

  • Does not search everything in the library
  • Harder to find specialty materials, like videos or datasets
  • Returns a lot of results, which can be overwhelming and challenging to review

Multidisciplinary databases

Our multidisciplinary databases include EBSCOhost, Gale Research Complete, and ProQuest.


  • Searches a large amount of content at once
  • Provides more options to narrow your results than the library search
  • Includes some specialty collections, like videos and specialized reports 

When to use:

  • If you need to focus your research but cover several subjects at once
  • If you're struggling to find what you need through the library search

Keep in mind:

  • Returns a lot of results, which can be overwhelming and challenging to review
  • May not include the specialty content you need
  • Limited to the content offered through that provider (i.e., ProQuest does not search EBSCOhost content and vice versa)

Specialty databases

Specialty databases focus on specific content, like dissertations or data, or subjects, like nursing or education. The phrase specialty database can have different meanings depending on the library you go to, but, for our purposes, it refers to any database that isn't the library search or multidisciplinary.


  • Allows you to conduct focused searches
  • Provides more ways to narrow and refine your search
  • More concise results list that is easier to review
  • Includes more features and tools that make it easier to use the database or conduct research

When to use:

  • If you need specialty content
  • If you are researching a focused topic
  • If you need to use a specific feature or tool within a database
  • If you need to use content from a particular source

Keep in mind:

  • It may be difficult to know which database to choose
  • May require that you use more than one database to find everything you need

Ask Us!

Have a question or need help?

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