Online databases have revolutionized the way college students conduct research. Today, you’re no longer limited to library books or hard copies of academic journals.
With their boundless, easily accessible online content, databases have afforded college and grad students (plus some lucky high school students) the opportunity to read what was at one time only available to a small audience. Knowing which ones will best serve your specific needs will not only save time in the writing process, but will also allow you to present the most relevant research on your topic.
Learn more about these four online resources so you know where to turn when the assignments start rolling in.
A great place to start your research is EBSCO, which is actually a group of multi-disciplinary databases that provides full-text articles for thousands of peer-reviewed titles. In EBSCO’s family of databases, you’ll find a variety of sources including journals, magazines, and even e-books. One of the most popular databases in EBSCO’s suite is “Academic Search Complete," which is the most comprehensive — and often the best — starting point for general research in any subject area.
If you’re looking for sources in a specialized field, on the other hand, EBSCO also allows you to choose which database to search for your subject, such as “Military and Government Collection," “PsycINFO," or the “Science and Technology Collection."
A comprehensive news database that contains over 17,000 sources, LexisNexis Academic is the go-to research tool for past or present news-related topics. It contains the full text of thousands of newspapers and magazines, news transcripts from radio and TV programs (such as “60 Minutes" and “Meet the Press"), as well as news wires from services like The Associated Press. Students can search newspaper sources by “general" or “U.S. news," for example, as well as by region – Midwest, Western, Southeast, and Northeast.
LexisNexis also offers information on businesses, like company profiles and market and industry reports, as well as legal resources that include state and federal statutes, regulations, and legal decisions. A quick search under “landmark cases," for instance, will take you to a subject list with case summaries, overviews, and outcomes on popular essay topics like capital punishment, homosexuality, civil rights, and right-to-die, to name a few.
If your instructor has limited you to peer-reviewed material, however, LexisNexis sources technically do not fit this requirement. Even though newspapers, magazines, and other respectable news sources undergo an editorial process, this is not the same as peer review. Be sure to ask your instructor if you can use this database before including these sources in your paper.
Short for “Journal Storage," JSTOR is a shared, digital library created to free up shelf space in college libraries by converting print content into electronic form. This database digitally houses an extensive archive of journals, books, and primary sources in nearly any area of the arts and sciences — including history, language, literature, art, film, performing arts, philosophy, sociology, and other humanities topics — dating back to the first volume ever published. All resources in JSTOR are full-text, scholarly, and academic, and most journals are peer-reviewed (except for older publications that pre-date the peer-review process).
When they assign a paper for humanities, many college instructors will recommend beginning research with JSTOR. For example, a common piece of work given to students is to complete a literary analysis of a short story or poem. By clicking on the “Advanced Search" tab on JSTOR’s homepage, you have the ability to target your search to a specific type of content or discipline, such as religion, anthropology, or folklore. And while you may find some of the same results from EBSCO, using JSTOR enables you to conduct a more discipline-specific search in the arts and sciences.
Like JSTOR, Project MUSE offers full-text articles and books related to the arts and humanities. The database houses over 300,000 peer-reviewed articles and 800,000 chapters of electronic books from nearly 250 different publishers. Moreover, you’ll also discover the complete volumes of many academic journals (though licensing restrictions may cause certain issues to remain inaccessible).
Many students find this tool quick and easy to use, as you can narrow your search by research area like the social sciences, literature, or history. If you have come across results on your topic by a specific author and want to read more from that expert, you have the ability to further narrow your search by author — or by title or publisher, for that matter.
If you haven’t used online databases, take some time to familiarize yourself with those used most commonly in your discipline. Many college library websites enable you to search by subject or academic area, which is often the best place to start. In most cases, though, you’ll also want to access the full text of the source from one of these four databases. And remember to check whether your instructor requires peer-reviewed sources so you’re sure to include approved material!
Learning how to use your institution’s library website in concert with these online databases will give you nearly all the resources you need to successfully complete any research project your professor may send your way.