What is a database?

Introduction Top

A database is an index of scholarly resources. Library catalogues, journal databases, ePrints and Google scholar are all databases. Databases for research often include collection information, fulltext articles, book chapters and websites. Understanding the organisation of databases will help you get the most out of searching no matter what the tool. For the purpose of research, a database can be described as:

  • a collection and repository of electronic sources
  • a searching tool using records and indexes
  • a publishing platform (e.g. EBSCOhost which has multiple collections by subject and/or format)

Common features of databases Top

Common features of databases include:

  • Simple and Advanced Search screens
  • searching by fields such as author, article title, abstract, etc.
  • search syntax techniques such as Boolean, truncation, wildcard, proximity, etc.
  • a results screen with ability to sort and view in different ways
  • limiters to refine results by subject, format, publication date, peer-reviewed, etc.
  • the ability to email, print, download, export to reference management software
  • the ability to create profiles, save searches and results.
  • email alerts for searches and Table of Contents
  • a thesaurus of subject terms in use
  • help functionality to show the search options

Why use more than one database? Top

Which database is best? You will need to use different databases at different stages of your research and for different aspects of your research.

No database has everything, not even the Library's Quick Find which aggregates content from many databases. Often the best databases to use are the ones specific to your subject area. The ability to conduct quality searches across a range of resources is essential for you to be able to produce a comprehensive well rounded literature review. You will not be searching in just one database but multiple, and conducting numerous searches related to your topic and sub topics.

General search tools such as Google Scholar or Quick Find are useful for early and general information searching. Specific search tools with added search functions are essential for more comprehensive searching. This mirrors how we develop knowledge in a topic too. In that way, you can not only work your way into your research but also develop extra techniques as you go. Start with easy searching first and as you learn more about the topic area graduate to more precise /comprehensive searching next.

Strengths and weaknesses Top

Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of a database will help to maximise their potential as well as decide when it is time to select or move to another. These guiding questions will help you decide on the value of particular databases:

Criteria Questions to ask
  • Does the database offer reliable, comprehensive coverage of journal articles in the area of interest?  Is it suitable for a comprehensive search of the literature or does it only cover a small percentage of the literature?
  • Coverage – what years are covered?
  • How up to date is the information and how often is the database updated?
  • What types of publications/formats are included?
  • Is peer reviewed academic information included?
Search Interface
  • How do you work the search functionality options in the search screens and results screens?
  • Does the database allow for citation searching?
  • Is controlled vocabulary searching available?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the interface screens?
Search syntax or algorithm
  • Does the database have the desired search syntax?
  • What do the results show about how the search works?
Ease of Use
  • Is the database easy to access and to use?
  • Is it easy to save searches, create alerts, export results, and download PDF?
  • Is it easy to refine your searches e.g. to date, publication type, subject, etc.

Find databases Top

QUT Library's Find Databases describes all of the databases available at QUT. Search for databases by subject area or database type. You can also search using title, keyword or topic.

Database types Top

QUT Library has index, fulltext and rich media databases.

  • Index databases: Index databases are a catalogue of information and citations by author, title, publisher, date, and publication title. They may or may not also provide an abstract that summarises the item and links to the full-text. Web of Science and Scopus are two of the largest databases of published scholarly information.
  • Fulltext databases: Fulltext databases are an index database with the fulltext of an article either in HTML or as a PDF file. Typically they are smaller and more specialised publisher collections.
  • Rich media databases: Rich media databases are index databases with images, sound and video.

Free and subscription databases Top

Databases are either free or subscription-based.

  • Free databases provide access to a wide variety of scholarly resources, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) which delivers open access, peer-reviewed content. Open access databases allow researchers to share freely across disciplines, promoting interdisciplinary discoveries, and ensuring maximum visibility of a researcher's published outputs.
  • Subscription databases charge individuals and institutions for access to information. QUT Library pays subscriptions to many databases allowing QUT researchers, students and staff to access this information at no additional cost.

Summary Top

A database is an index of scholarly resources that may contain citations only, fulltext or rich media. Databases share common features. Use the QUT Library databases to find multiple databases for your research.