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Choosing the Best Finding Aids
Selecting the best or most appropriate finding aid for identifying sources depends almost entirely on the context of your research assignment. There is no single database or web search interface that will work for every research context; instead, you'll need to match your specific research needs to a variety of options.
Library catalog searches (i.e., Primo) can be the better choice when you are seeking in-depth, book-length treatments of a topic.
Multidisciplinary databases (i.e., JSTOR) can be the most appropriate choice when you just want to get a sense of what's available on a topic and when it isn't so important that you pay attention to disciplinary lenses.
Subject databases (i.e., Historical Abstracts) are the best choice for identifying the widest range of sources on a topic within a specific academic discipline. Recommended subject databases for each discipline can be found on the "articles" tab in each library subject guide.
These e-journal collections provide access to many scholarly journals but they are more limited in coverage compared to subject databases.
JSTOR This link opens in a new window
An interdisciplinary journal archive. It includes archives of over one thousand leading academic journals across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, as well as select monographs and other materials valuable for academic work.
Project MUSE This link opens in a new window
Interdisciplinary database includes books and articles from scholarly publishers with focus on humanities and social science.
General Database Search Tips
Try these strategies to become a better, more efficient searcher -- and help you find articles that you can actually use:
- Build your search vocabulary -- keep a running list of key words, phrases, concepts, synonyms, and any related terms or ideas that you find.
- Use advanced search features -- narrow your search with "AND," expand your search with "OR," or search in specified fields (i.e., author, title, publication, abstract).
- Use search limits -- control the types of results you get (academic journals? language?) and how they are displayed (date? relevance?) so that you're only looking at results you can use.
- Try multiple searches and evaluate -- try to figure out why you got the results you did, and adjust your search until you get closer to results you can use.
- Use database descriptors -- once you find an article that looks good, see what descriptors or "subject headings" were assigned to it in the database. You can use these to search only for articles that have the same descriptors attached.