Thing 5: Databases

In this post we will look at finding databases and effectively searching them. We will also explore alert and save functions in databases, which you can use to reduce your workload and help stay on top of current research in your field.

Getting Started

Finding and Accessing Databases

A really good starting point for finding the most relevant databases in your discipline is through the Library’s Subject Research Guides (LibGuides). Each guide will have a databases tab where you will find a list of recommended databases relevant to the subject or area of study/research. Another way to access databases – and e-journal titles – is via the A-Z e-journals and databases search, where you can also browse databases by name and subject. For future quick access bookmark the permalinks of those databases you are going to search most regularly. Make sure to access databases through one of the ways described above, logging in with your UoM username and password and thereby unlocking content subscribed to by the library.

There are different types of databases. They can be multidisciplinary, i.e. covering a range of disciplines, or subject-specific. Multidisciplinary databases include Scopus and Web of Science, both of which are citation databases, meaning they include citation counts for the articles they index. Subject-specific databases will generally retrieve smaller, but more focused, result sets than multidisciplinary databases, which have a wider coverage.

Searching Databases

To effectively search scholarly databases you will need to use the operators AND/OR/NOT to connect your keywords in a way that is meaningful to a database. The short video below (3:47) explains how to create search strategies using these operators, and offers some further tips on how to get the most out of your search in a database:

Search strategy: Boolean Operators” from Baillieu Library on Vimeo.

Accounts & Alerts

Once you have identified the most relevant databases for your purposes, it can be a good idea to create (free) accounts with them. This will allow you to save your searches and set up search alerts. Search alerts ensure that the database automatically searches for items that match your search criteria; you will then receive email alerts with these automatic search results at the interval specified by you (weekly, monthly etc.). Registering for an account typically involves creating a username, a password and providing an email address. Remember these details for accessing, adding, deleting and modifying saved searches and alerts.   

If you wish to receive alerts from more than one database provider, e.g. Scopus (Elsevier) and Web of Science (Thomson Reuters) you will need to create separate accounts with each company. However, only a single account is required for creating alerts in multiple databases from the same company. Ebsco, for example, provides access to Discovery and several specialist databases such as Historical Abstracts or the ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) database .   

Depending on the database you are using, you can also set up citation alerts, meaning that if a key article you are interested in is cited, you will get an alert – this helps you stay up to date with the latest research in your area without having to manually re-run searches.

If your subject area isn’t covered by the major citation databases, you can try using Google Scholar. You can set up search alerts, and citation alerts for particular articles. If you are using Google Scholar, connect to it via the Library catalogue to ensure that it links to the University of Melbourne databases to give you access to that content that the library has subscriptions to.  


When sharing articles be mindful of any potential copyright obligations the database may impose. When sharing the link to a specific article, databases will have an option to copy a permalink, or otherwise share details via email.

Depending on the nature of your research you may be gathering large numbers of articles. Have a think about how you will manage – or currently are managing – your resources and their bibliographic information. Thing 4 covers three of the more popular reference management tools and will direct you to further readings.

Try This

  • Have a look at Current Contents Connect – it’s a multidisciplinary current awareness resource providing access to complete bibliographic information for over 8000 Scholarly journals. You can use it to set up table of contents alerts for your preferred journals, as they are published.  
  • Set up a search alert in Google Scholar

Learn More

The Library’s guide to Staying Current will give you more information on setting up alerts.

If you need help with identifying databases, formulating search strategies, refining existing searches etc. you can book a research consultation with your faculty liaison librarian. For some basic tips on finding journal articles, see this Library Guide 

Using databases to find articles for a review? Have a look at the library guides for Literature Reviews and Systematic reviews. Systematic reviews are also covered in the post for Thing 6.

This post was written by Sarah Charing (Liaison Librarian (Research Support), Architecture, Building and Planning Library).

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