Searching Databases

In most cases, searching databases is different than searching Google. Typically, this is because databases are enabled to do powerful, research keyword searches across peer-reviewed literature, whereas Google performs natural language searching across web pages and freely-available documents.

What this means for you is that you'll need to develop refined research skills using databases to discover information about your topic. Below is a fool-proof recipe to help you find refine your topic and find information.

  • Write out your topic in a sentence or phrase (make sure your topic is specific enough)
  • Break it into the important concepts
  • Be sure to think of as many synonyms or alternate terms as you can (use a thesaurus!)
  • Connect your concepts with AND and your similar terms with OR (use not to exclude common meanings you don't want)

Try It!

Using the recipe above, come up with a list of search terms and go to a database that covers the subject (in this case, science) like Web of Knowledge. Perform your search.

Ex: bear* OR Ursus americanus



 as Topics

In a lot of databases, if you look at the full record for the article (or the limiting options) you'll also find the subject headings or descriptors that the database uses to classify any articles specifically about that topic. Write down useful keywords, and try a new search.

You can then limit your results by publication year, type of material (like only peer-reviewed articles) or other criteria (review articles).

Search only for review articles published in the last 5 years. Sort by times cited. Find a paper that looks interesting to you. How many people have cited it?Find at least three more articles that are useful for your topic.

Peer reviewed journals

Hint! Primary research is often published in a peer-reviewed journal.

To check if a journal is peer-reviewed/refereed, search the journal by title in Ulrich's Periodical Directory--look for the referee jersey icon.

More on peer-reviewed journals from the University of Texas.

Off-Campus Access to Full-Text

If you're off-campus and want access to full-text, just go through the Library Gateway. You can log in with your netID and password to gain access to our licensed resources.

For anytime, anywhere access from your browser, download the Passkey toolbar from CUL Labs.

Smarter Google Scholar

Set your Google Scholar Preferences so that Google recognizes you as a Cornell person, and knows what you have access to. 

  • In Google Scholar, go to Scholar Preferences
  • Under Library Links settings, set to Cornell
  • Now, Get it! Cornell appears in your search results, when that item is available
  • Under Bibliography Manager settings, set to show links to import citations into RefWorks

Quick Start: Searching PubMed

PubMed's Quick Start information and videos will help you learn how to quickly and easily find research articles.

Content includes:

  • How to perform a general search, or by author or journal name
  • How to get a copy of the article you've found
  • How to focus or expand your search

Using Web of Science

Need to find scholarly articles on a particular topic? Try searching Web of Science, an important and useful multidisciplinary scholarly database that can help you find highly cited articles for nearly any topic. See this tutorial to learn how to:

 For more indepth info, see Web of Science's training videos.

Web of Science basic search

Web of Science includes more than one database in the life sciences (and more) and other specialized tools, which you can choose to search individually or all at once using All Databases. Try a basic search in All Databases and you can narrow your search by particular criteria (like words in the title or years) using the dropdown menu).

More about searching

Boolean SearchingMost databases allow the use of AND, OR and NOT to broaden or narrow and search. 

  • AND will narrow the search to include only records with both terms. 
  • OR with broaden the search to include records with either term.
  • NOT will narrow the search to exclude records with one of the terms.

Truncation:  You can use an * at the end of a word stem to broaden your search to include related terms.  For example, to search for child, children or childhood use the search term child*

Putting quotes "" around words allows you to search for a phrase.  For example, searching language development, without quotes, finds records with both the word 'language' and 'development' somewhere in the record.  Searching "language development", with quotes, only find records with the phrase "language development".


Example: How does bilingualism affect language development in children?

search in Web of Science

bilingualism OR multilingualism


child* OR adolescen*


"language development" OR "language acquisition"

Science Databases

Here are the top, chiefly scholarly, databases in this subject area.

Social Science Databases

Here are the top, mostly scholarly, databases in this subject area.