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AASP 297: Research Methods in African American Studies

This online course tutorial will assist researchers in designing effective research methods for the purpose of locating African American resources.

Database Search Techniques

Why Use Databases?

Databases are subscription resources that bring articles from a variety of magazines and/or journals into one place with a sophisticated search engine. Many of the databases allow you to read the entire article online. All databases that UMD Libraries subscribe to can be accessed through Database Finder.

Library Databases vs Search Engines

Click on the video below to watch a tutorial on the differences between a subscription-based library database and a free search engine. It explains when and how to use each. (Access video by clicking the image).


Google Scholar is a special case, a search engine that actually allows you connect to with the library databases. This is great for doing a quick, general search for articles on your topic. For more refined searches, please use the databases listed below on this page. The video below explains how to connect your Google Scholar account to your UMD Libraries account:


For more information on how to do more effective searches, please refer to the tabs above:

  • How to Search
  • Finding Background Information
  • Develop a Search Strategy
  • Searching Tips

You can also search multiple databases at once!

EBSCOhost and ProQuest are platforms that house approximately 60 to 75 databases. In order to get the best search results you should select the databases you need (i.e. if your subject is "education" you would limit your search to education databases) . To do this go to the top of the database homepage and look for the terms All databases, Change databases, or Choose databases. See examples and video tutorial below.

For ProQuest:

For EBSCOhost:



What if there is no full text?

Don't panic!  You have several options:

Finding Background Information

Start your research by exploring the following resources:


UMD Discover

Academic Search Complete
              University of Maryland Libraries Logo
Google Scholar UMD Libraries Databases


Tips for Organizing Your Research

Visit our Research Commons' Site for creative and practical suggestions.

Searching Strategies

Choosing your search topic can be a difficult process - it is important to pick a topic that is not so narrow that little if anything has been written about it, yet it is also important to pick a topic that is not so broad that there is too much information and it is impossible to develop a coherent and focused thesis.

Let's say that ....


1. Divide your research question into concepts and connect them with the Boolean operator AND.

  •  smoking AND youth

2. Brainstorm some synonyms and connect them with the Boolean operator OR:

  • smoking OR tobacco OR “pipe smoking”, etc. 
  • Specific communities? (ex. minority, African-American, immigrants, low-income, children, etc.)
  • Look up ‘smoking’ in MeSH.

3. Your final search strategy could look like:

  • smoking AND (youth OR teens OR teenagers) AND minority NOT Canada


A brief video tutorial on how Boolean operators work.




Below you will find more tips on searching techniques that can be used to help refine your searches.

Searching techniques to limit or expand your results






Find all the words

Find any of the words

Find documents which have the first word, but not the second word

internet AND education

internet OR intranet

internet NOT html




Search for an exact phrase by using quotes around the phrase

 "environmental health"

Truncation *

Find all forms of a word - the asterisk *is used as a right-handed truncation character only.

Searching for econom* will find "economy", "economics", "economical", etc.

Wildcard ?

Replace any single character, either inside the word or the right end of the word. ? cannot be used to begin a word.  

Searching for wom?will find "woman" and "women."


It is important to realize that if you search a database with a certain word or phrase and you don't retrieve results to your liking, it doesn't mean that there are no other articles in that database on your topic. It may mean that you need to try other related words in your search, such as synonyms. For example, try automobile or auto instead of car.

Magazines & Newspapers                                          


  • Written for a general audience
  • Typically what you would see in a bookstore or on a magazine stand
  • Intended to inform and/or entertain
  • Popular journals do not undergo 'peer-review' process
  • Can be found in many of the article databases to which the University of Maryland subscribes
  • Examples: TimeSports IllustratedScientific American, etc. 

Scholarly Journals 

  • Written by/for experts in a given field
  • Usually these are available through academic libraries or anywhere there is a need for the highly specialized information contained within these publications
  • Intended to inform
  • Undergo 'peer-review' process prior to publication (see below)
  • To focus on these resources when searching UM article databases, be sure to limit your search to 'scholarly' or 'peer-reviewed' literature
  • Examples: American Journal of Public HealthGenetic Epidemiology,Family and Community Health, etc.
  • Overview, broader in scope
  • Can be out-of-date, so be sure to check the publication date
Open web
  • Large variety in terms of quality
  • As opposed to subscription-based internet resources such as article databases and e-journals that the UMCP libraries subscribe to.


Criteria for evaluating resources:

  • Accuracy
    • How does this resource match up with others you've seen? 
    • Do the results seem plausible? 
  • Authority
    • Who created it? 
    • What are the qualifications of the creator?
    • Where is the information hosted? (see Web Domains below)
  • Content
    • Is this written in a ‘professional’ manner?  
    • Is it sloppy? 
    • What kind of evidence does the creator use to support what they are saying?
  • Purpose
    • Is this written in an objective, detached way? 
    • Is this someone’s personal opinion? 
    • Who is the intended audience?
  • Timeliness
    • When was this produced?
    • If a website, when was this updated last? 
    • How old are the works that are foot-noted/cited?

Some examples:

Web Domains

Anyone can create a Web site. It is important to find out who is the author and what are the author's qualifications or expertise in order to determine the credibility and reliability of the information.

.com Produced by a commercial enterprise, trying to sell something or funded by advertisers
.edu From an educational institution (college, high school, museum)
.net Network of computers
.mil A military site
.gov Produced by the government
.org Produced by a nonprofit organization
.uk, .cn, .us, etc. A country-sponsored site A web site from the state of Maryland