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Database Searching

Learn how to select a library database for your research topic and how to use the databases to find sources on your topic.

So...How Do I Search in a Database?

Let's walk through searching in a database. Today we will use EBSCO's Academic Search Complete. If you use another database it may look different. No matter what library database you select, most will have similar search features.

  • A basic search bar and a more advanced search bar for multiple keywords
  • Various limiters (date range, publication type, language and more!)
  • Full PDF text links or "find full text" links

Step 1

Determine what information you need and determine your topics subject.

  • Our sample search question: Does access to higher education affect recidivism (reoffending) for people in prison? 
    • Information needed: my assignment says that I need 3 sources. One needs to be a scholarly article published within the past 10 years. 
    •  Subject of my topic: multidisciplinary (education, criminal justice)

Step 2

Look and select a database from the A-Z Databases list.

  • Since our topic is multidisciplinary, we are going to look in Academic Search Complete. The description for Academic Search Complete is "contains journal, magazine, and newspaper articles covering all subject areas."

Step 3

Getting to know the database you selected.

  • From the A-Z Databases list, click on the hyperlink for the database you selected. Take a minute to look at the homepage for the database and familiarize yourself with it's search features. Academic Search Complete has three search bars on the homepage which means we can search using multiple keywords. There are also different search options below the search bar including limiting to scholarly peer reviewed works, publication date, and publication type. 
    • Are there any limiters that you can use to find information on your topic? You will be able to add limiters to your search at any time so there is no pressure to add limiters now. 


Basic interface of EBSCO's Academic Search Complete showing three search bars and refiners.

Step 4

Time to search!

  • Use the search bar to add your keywords. What are keywords? These are important words from your research question or topic. Check out the "Search Strategies" page to learn more about developing keywords. 
    • Our keywords are recidivism and prison.


Close up of search bar in Academic Search Complete with the following keywords "recidivism AND prison."

  • Hit search and take a look at your search results. We got 1,702 results. Take a minute to browse your results page. Click on an article title to learn more about the article including the abstract (or summary), author, publisher and access to full text. 


Results page in Academic Search Complete using "recidivism AND prison" as keywords. Search results show 1,702.

Step 5

Refining results

  • Our results are a bit too broad so let's add another keyword (higher education) into our search. Let's also use the "Refine Results" on the left hand side to change the publication date so we can see sources published within the past 10 years. Want to limit your results more? Try to limit to scholarly (peer reviewed) journals on the left hand side. Hopefully now we can find a scholarly peer reviewed article published within the past 10 years per our assignment. 


Search results page in Academic Search Complete showing updated keywords: recidivism AND prison AND higher education. Refiners located on the left side were added including limiting to "Scholarly Peer Reviewed Journals" and limiting to sources published between 2009-2018. The results now show 16 sources.


  • Want more results? Add in synonyms you brainstormed to broaden your search results. For example, let's add synonyms for higher education such as college and university, and use "OR" to let the database know we want results that contain higher education or college or university. 

Search results page in Academic Search Complete showing updated keywords: recidivism AND prison AND (higher education OR college OR university). The results now show 857 sources.

Step 6

Look at your results and play around!

  • Now that we've walked through the basics of searching in a library database, try different keyword combinations, add or remove limiters and try searching in other databases.

Find it @ New Paltz and Interlibrary Loan

If you see a "find full text" button instead of a PDF in a database - CLICK IT! The "find full text" button will search our other 140ish databases for full text access and provide you with a link. If we do not have access to the article then an Interlibrary Loan option is provided. 

  1. Click the  "find full text" button on the article description page. Article detail page in a database with arrow pointing to "Find full text" button on the left.
  2. If we have the pdf in another database, you will be directed to a page to download the pdf. The "find full text" page with access to downloadable PDF and article link in right panel.
  3. If we do not have the full text in another database, you will be taken to another description page for the article. Sign into your library account to submit an interlibrary loan request.Article detail page within the library catalog with arrow pointing to "Get It" section with Interlibrary Loan option.
  4. Scroll down to the "Get It" section on the article page. If a database is listed, click on database hyperlink to be brought to an electronic copy of that article. If Interlibrary Loan is listed, click on the Interlibrary Loan hyperlink to request a PDF copy of the article. 
  5. Sign into your Interlibrary Loan account using your NP username and password. 
  6. Check to make sure the auto filled article information is correct then hit "Submit Request" at the bottom of the request page. Interlibrary Loan article request page auto filled with a box around "Submit Request" at bottom.
  7. You will receive an email when a PDF of the article is available for you to download.