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Database Searching

This LibGuide is meant to illustrate database structure and how to search databases according to their design. This LibGuide is meant to be directed toward searching Medical and Life Sciences databases.

What is a Database?

What is a database?

“A database is an organized collection of data, generally stored and accessed electronically from a computer system.”

A database, as we typically use the term, refers to two things:

  • Content
  • Interface
    • i.e. "search engine"

Database Content

The structure of a database


  • Databases contain records

    • These records can be of journals; journal articles; eBooks; movies; images; and records of other digital resources. Database records may not give you direct access to the full-text or to the item itself. If you are searching for a journal article, searching the database may only take you to the record describing the article's existence. 
  • Records contain fields;

    • These fields are predefined data categories. A field is an individual piece of information about a resource. Some common fields include:
      • author
      • title
      • abstract
      • subject

What does this mean for searching within databases?

Fields have different data values. For example records in a database may have a "Title" field, and the data values for the Title field will be different. The data values in the title fields of records may be Catch-22, Gravity's Rainbow, or Alice in Wonderland. The fields that are defined are almost always searchable. 

Searching a database is different than searching Google. If you just type in your research question into a database search engine, you may find some relevant results; however, you will not find all the relevant literature because of the way databases are designed as described above. 


Database Interfaces

What is an interface? 

An interface is the medium used to communicate with a system. 

An interface is what you are seeing on your screen. It includes the way the search engine, search fields, and data sets exchange information and communicate. Ultimately the interface can play a major role in what you retrieve. An interface also includes the rules or the syntax with which you use to communicate with a system.   

That's why we have database search strategies. We want you to be able to maximize your search results by knowing how to utilize both database fields and interfaces.

Example of the Structure of records in the MEDLINE database with the PubMed Interface