HS 307 - Evidence Based Research Methods in Health Sciences: Getting Started

Finding the Right Database

What is a Database

A library database is a curated collection of resources which are available for electronic searching.  These resources might be bibliographic citations, abstracts, full text articles, ebooks, streaming media or datasets.   Databases provide access to professionally published material which are generally organized around a specific subject.  


Databases are typically organized around a specific subject or group of subjects.  Understanding a database's scope will save a lot of time on the part of the researcher by helping them anticipate what will or will not be inside a given database. 

Example: If you are doing research on melanoma, then spending time searching LitFinder, a database of plays, novels and speeches would not be productive.  Instead you would want to identify databases whose scope would include articles on melanoma.


No database covers every article written about a given subject.  Databases might cover the articles published by a given journal from a particular date through a particular date.  Sometimes publishers place an "embargo" on their content, meaning that the database is only able to cover articles of a certain age.  Embargo periods might range from a month to a year or more.  Understanding what is or is not covered in a given database is also important when conducting scholarly research.  


Different databases contain different types of content, so understanding what records will or will not be in a database will help when searching. 

Example: If you are looking for video demonstrations of specific counseling techniques you would not want to spend a lot of time searching a database containing only bibliographic citations and abstracts.  Instead you might pick Academic Videos Online, a database of streaming media content.


The Research Question

Get started by thinking about your research question.  What are the major topics the question addresses?  It can be helpful to write down these topics and related topics for constructing your search.  Think about the scope of resources which might address these topics.  Is your scope contained to a particular field or is there an interdisciplinary element to your question?  

Databases A-Z

After you have thought through your question, find the database that will match the needs you have identified.  Begin any resource search at the Corette Library Homepage.  This site will have the most current links and information related to library resources available to you as a student at Carroll. 

From the library home page click "Articles & Databases" for a comprehensive list of Corette Library databases.



To help you identify the database that might work best for you we have organized our resources by subject and type. Click the subject drop down and choose "Health Professions" for a list of databases which might be helpful for health related research questions.


You will see a list of databases which might be useful: those which are most heavily associated with the Health Professions are highlighted at the top in the "Best Bets" area. 

Below that are a list of other databases which might also be helpful depending on your particular question.  These results show the name of the database as well as a brief description to help you better understand the scope, coverage and content of the resource.


We will look at two specific databases, PubMed and CINAHL Complete in more depth, but most of the strategies you will learn can be applied to all of our library databses.

Making Sure

Evaluating a Database

Before you start searching on a new database it is a good idea to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with it.  You will want to be sure that the database does actually contain the information you are expecting.  Databases will often explicitly state what is included either through a publications list or a descriptive scope note.  


Clicking the Publications list will tell us exactly what titles are included, what type of records are provided for those titles, and the coverage periods for each record type.  Pay attention to notes about embargo dates and coverage periods.  Remember: Just because a full text article is not available, does not mean that the citation isn't helpful!   If you need access to an article, but the full text is unavailable you can always try searching the main library catalog or request the item through Interlibrary Lending.


The Perfect Database

Keep in mind you are unlikely to find the database that has all of the answers for your research question.  You will likely want to consult multiple different collections over the course of your research.  You may need to use an Abstract and Index resource, a full text database, a data set, and collection of government reports.  Do not spend too much time trying to find the perfect database and instead remember that database searching should be an iterative process and it is fine to try similar searches on multiple different resources. 

Ask a Librarian

Corette Library Staff are here to help you.

Connect with us today through one of the following:



Our "Chat with a Librarian" service is available whenever our Research Help Desk is open.



(406) 447-4340





Email: libstaff@carroll.edu

You will receive a response within 24-48 business hours.




Appointment (for in-person or virtual 1x1 assistance): online appointment form.

We can connect using Zoom or Google Hangouts.  


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