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Getting started with subject databases

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Subject databases are search tools, which you can use to search for information within a specific subject area, making your searches more focussed. Subject databases are an important source of research material for your discipline area. By searching subject databases, you can access high quality information for use in your studies. In this resource we will explore what you can find within these databases, why they are an important research tool and how to select the right databases for your research area.

✍ This resource will support you to create a personalised action plan.

What can I find within subject databases?

Subject databases usually cover a specific subject area such as education, but there will be some overlap with the information on other databases. Within subject databases you can find scholarly material from academic publishers and specialist information providers as well various types of information which may include:

  • Journal articles
  • Conference proceedings
  • Policies and white papers
  • Multimedia e.g., images, video, audio
  • Statistics and raw data sets
  • Business data, market research and company information

Why do I need to use subject databases?

Your tutors will be expecting you to use high quality sources in your work. Articles found within subject databases have usually gone through a process of peer review which indicates it has been checked by other scholars working in the same field. However, when using any source, it’s important to apply critical analysis skills before using it in your work.

Your tutors will also expect you to use a wide range of sources in your work. Using subject databases alongside Library Search and Google Scholar helps to give you this range of information and perspectives.

On your mark scheme you may see criteria like “Demonstrates a critical understanding of a wide range of sources”. It’s hard to achieve when only using one resource like Google Scholar.

How do I choose which databases to search?

  • Your research question may cross several discipline areas meaning you need to explore a wider range of subject databases.

    Even where this is not the case, looking across a range of related subject areas and databases is good way to ensure you are find alternative views and research that may influence your work. Using a range of perspectives will help you to support your argument and produce a well thought out and critical piece of work.

    Multidisciplinary databases

    In addition to subject specific databases there are also multidisciplinary databases. Multidisciplinary databases contain information covering multiple research areas and are particularly useful place to start your research. Examples of mulitidisciplinary databases include:

    Multidisciplinary databases should be used alongside specialist subject databases to get the broadest and most relevant results for your work.

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How can I access databases for my research area?

Subject databases can be accessed from several locations on the Library website. Subject guides are the easiest place to familiarise yourself with the subject databases in your research area. Each subject guide includes a curated list of subject specific databases which includes details of the resources you can find within them. You can use the descritptions to help select the most relevant databases for your research.

Once your familiar with a the databases in you can also access them quickly via the Database A-Z listings page.

⭐ Activity

Watch the video below to learn how you can find and access databases for your subject.

How do I search databases?

Watch the videos below to see examples of searching within different commonly used databases.

Remember, all databases look a little different and have slightly different fucntionality. If you are struggling to search within a specific database try looking at the help section, check our FAQ's or contact a member of staff via Library Chat.

Watch the video below to see how to get started searching Web Of Science including how to export reference files for your results.

Watch the video below to see how to get started searching for a specific company in the Scopus database.

Watch the video below to see how to get started searching for a specific company in the JSTOR database.

⭐ Activity

  1. Open the Web Of Science multidisciplinary database from the Library website.
  2. Carry out a search for a topic of your choosing.
  3. Use date filters to limit your search results to the last 5 years.
  4. Review the abstracts from the top 5 results to check for relevance.
  5. Add and remove filters from your search to observe how this affects the number of results retrieved.


Searching within subject databases will help you to find the most relevant, high quality research for your assignment. Try to take a systematic and organised approach to your searches to ensure you save yourself time later, especially at the reading stage.

Take a look at our 'Further support' section below to learn more about how you can improve your search strategy.

Further support

  1. decorative magnifying glass icon

    Start to finish: Searching

    This set of resources will take you through the searching process from start to finish and help you find high quality, relevant sources for use in your work.

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    Start to finish:
    Searching systemactically

    This set of resources will introduce you to medical and health sciences databases and help you to search, to refine your results and access expert support.

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    Glossary of advanced searching

    In this post we explore the meaning of various terms used in searching and advanced searching of information.