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3-Planning a search

Topic 3    Databases

NB Please note that although you can access most databases by using your OU computer username and password, for a few databases you may need to obtain other passwords in order to be able to log on and consult data held there.

What is a database?

Many of you are probably familiar with the idea of a ‘database’. Organisations often hold information about individuals in a database. For example, your doctor or dentist will hold your records in a database as will banks, government departments, phone companies etc. A database is a way of storing, indexing, organising and retrieving information. You may have created one yourself to keep track of your references – or your friends' names and addresses. The specialised databases we can use to search for references to journal articles are called 'bibliographic' databases (because they contain information in summary form about books and journal articles). They are electronic indexes to the contents of thousands of journals. Some are general and cover all subject areas while others are more specialised and concentrate on a particular discipline.

What do they contain?

This varies – some contain references to articles including abstracts (summaries of the content of an article). Others will include or link to the full text (the content) of the article too.

Why use them?

They can be a very quick means of accessing thousands of references to academic material, at the click of a mouse. The fact that the information is in the databases means it has usually gone through some selection or reviewing process by virtue of its publication in an academic journal – so the information is likely to be of high quality.


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