General Principles and Common Features of Using the Databases

Nowadays the scientific professional databases offer the viewing and browsing of the literature in a user-friendly, easy way based on similar principles. If we learn a little about the usage of a database we will see that other databases offer similar structures, possibilities and convenience services. Now we are drawing attention to these common features. One of the advantages of using databases is that we can access articles which have not been published in print yet, but which have been published online (Articles in Press).

Defining the search question

General rules:

  • The search engines are not sensitive to small and capital letter. In order to avoid the error message, it is recommended to define the search question without the use of accented letters.
  • If a database contains the content in more languages – in the international databases the content is mainly in English – the search question must be defined in the given language.
  • The databases usually search for the plural or possessive forms automatically.

Truncation and wildcards:

  • If a character can be written in more ways in a word, or we are not sure of the correct spelling, we can use a masking sign (? or *, depending on the database) this way we can substitute a character in a word at any place. For example, if we type analy?ed the results will be the words analysed and analyzed.
  • There are databases where * or ? (depending on the database) can substitute more characters, so typing the sign after the correct word stem will result in the compounds, suffixed and affixed forms of the word. For example, * and ? can substitute more characters in the online catalogue of our library.

Logical operators:

  • The connection between words (or in a more complicated case, search expression) can be represented with the so called logical operators: AND, OR, AND NOT (or NOT).
  • If we type two words in a search field without a logical operator, it will automatically mean an AND connection between the words.
    • AND: logical and, all of the given words can be found in the results, the words can appear far from each other, they can be totally independent, their order is not defined.
      e.g.: transportation AND road
    • OR: logical or, one or the other of the given words, or both of the given words can be found in the results, their order is not defined. It is recommended for searching for synonyms, spelling uncertainties, language variations.
      e.g.: classification OR analysis
    • AND NOT (or NOT): logical not, from a bigger set we do not need a sub-set, so we exclude the elements of a set from another set, the order is important.
      e.g.: forest NOT pine-forest
      The results will show forests which are not pine-forests (or the expression pine-forest cannot be found), so beech-groves, oak-groves, etc.

Other markings:

  • writing an exact multi-word expression between quotation marks, we can search for the exact given expression. E.g.: “hydrophobic interaction”
  • for giving a more complex search request we may need brackets the meaning of that is similar to the one in mathematics. E.g.: the search request of ‘creating porphyrin complexes’ is: porphyrin* AND (creat* OR prepar*) AND complex*
  • for quick search we may use logical operators, truncation, the symbol of searching for exact expression (“ “).
  • for basic searches the search takes place in the title of the article, in the abstract, in the headings, perhaps in the full-text, but we might choose other search fields.
  • at multi-field searches, basically there is an ‘AND-relation’ between the expressions written in the field and the data.

What can we do with the list of results?

  • If the received list is suitable we might export that in the preferred file form or might save on the server of the database after logging in the database personally.
  • Databases often offer ways to reduce the list of results or provide ideas for browsing (analyze, refine, limit to, exclude). On the screen of the list of results we can browse different categories of the list (e.g. date of publication, type, language of the document, available with full text) or we can reduce the list there so we do not need to do so at giving the search request (e.g. for the year, period, type of document).
  • We might go on searching in the set of results through adding a new search word (search within results).
  • If we are not logged in the database there is a possibility to gather useful results in a temporary folder during our work then starting actions with them from there – we can export the list of results or some marked elements of that in the form suitable for txt or reference managing software (e.g. RIS) or we might send them in e-mail or might fix an RSS. Note, this is saving the list (bibliography or optionally abstracts) not the full text contents of the items! After closing the database the whole content of the temporary folder is deleted. Saving the full text content you have to open the results, which are often in the form of pdf or html, one by one.

Advantages of registration

  • It is useful to register in the given database which is a free service of comfort. After logging in, we can carry on searching in the database through our own side and the search requests, lists of results are saved in our own folder, so that we can retrieve them or they can be combined later with the help of logical operators.
  • We can customise our own side, e.g. we can fix that the search should take place only in our favourite journal, storing possibility of the own folder is nearly unlimited while there are just the links saved there.
  • Setting alert: in the given periods we can get information via e-mail, if the database has been extended with the content matching the set alert since the last inquiry. Types:
    • search alert – there has been a new document matching the search request in the database;
    • volume/issue alert; TOC alert – there has been a new issue of our preferred journal published;
    • citation alert – there has been a new citation concerning a given article appeared.
last update: 2011, february 28 - 18:23