44 Using Databases: Periodical Indexes and Abstracts

Search Magazine Articles, Research Reports, Journal Articles, and Abstracts Published in Magazines, Newspapers, and Scholarly Journals.

Magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals provide contemporary material that is often on very narrow topics. Magazines are written in a more popular style and aimed at a general audience. The term “journals” is used for scholarly research publications. (Librarians use the term “periodicals” to include both magazines and journals.) Often journals are peer-reviewed, which means that the articles are read by a number of scholars in the field before being approved for publication. There are thousands of journals, magazines, and newspapers published annually. Instead of leafing through journals, magazines, and newspapers themselves, you can consult a periodical database to find out what articles have appeared on a given topic.

Before the Internet, printed indexes listed articles by subject headings. Entries included author, title of article, magazine or journal title, volume, issue, and page numbers. Given the researching habits of today’s scholars and students, it’s highly likely that your library has incorporated online resources into their collections. Produced by the same publishers who once provided print indexes, these online databases are proprietary and you will probably need to go through an authorization procedure in order to use them when you are off-campus. Check with your library to find out the procedures you need to follow.

Full-Text Databases

Not every article ever published is available with full text online. Some databases provide indexing only. However, even those services can be useful. If you have enough time, you can look first in your own library to see if the articles are available and then ask about the possibility of using interlibrary loan services to obtain the articles.

Databases can be searched by author, title, keywords, or subject headings (or descriptors). Increasingly, full-text PDFs are available for you to download, although it’s important to keep in mind that planning ahead is the best policy; most university libraries have a lag-time of about one year before converting print to online text/PDFs (meaning that the most up-to-date academic journal articles, for instance, may only be available in the print version until a year or so after their publication).

If you have never used a computerized index, then you will probably come away shocked and delighted by their potential. Rather than shuffling through mountains of books and periodicals and becoming distracted by tangential or irrelevant ideas, you can sift through a world of information in minutes by accessing the appropriate databases.

No indexing service covers every journal published in the world. Databases range from Art Abstracts to Zoological Records. There are general, multidisciplinary databases such as EBSCOHost, InfoTrac, Wilson Select Plus, and Readers Guide Abstracts. (Some of these have corresponding printed indexes and some are available online only.) How to Choose the Appropriate Database

How do you know which ones to use? Your library’s Web site will have a subject-oriented listing of the databases and indexes available. If you are having trouble deciding where to look, this is a good time to ask your librarian!

Although they differ in searching procedures, most databases can be searched by authors, titles of articles, keywords, and subject headings—most often referred to as descriptors. Every database has its own list of descriptors. A thesaurus of these descriptors may be available in print form as well as online. Looking up “classroom management” in ERIC, an education database, indicates that the preferred descriptor used by ERIC for this concept is “classroom techniques.” PsycINFO—an excellent indexing service produced by the American Psychological Association—uses descriptors such as “classroom behavior” and “classroom discipline” for the same concept. When using indexes online, first try a few keywords of your own, and then look carefully at the complete entries to see if you can identify other useful descriptors to use as research keywords/descriptors.


Once you have found the citations for the articles, you may find that the database you have selected includes online full text of all the articles indexed. If not, you will want to check your library’s catalog to see if the journal is available in print or electronically through another service. Libraries often provide a list of all of the journals that are made available electronically in the databases they license.

Online indexing can also provide additional filtering features, to make searching for specific keywords/descriptors/articles, etc. even more specific – for instance, you can usually search using limited publication dates. You may be able to limit your search to articles in a specific language. Some databases such as EXPANDED ACADEMIC ASAP allow users to limit their search to “peer-reviewed journals” (i.e. scholarly journals rather than popular magazines). Some databases provide a table of contents feature so that you can choose the name of a journal and then browse through each issue. Your library may license a large (and expensive) database called ISI Web of Science. Web of Science has a special “cited reference” feature. You can identify an article and then find out what other writers are citing that article! Then, if you wish, you can review what these other scholars have written about this particular source.

Given the remarkable capabilities of ISI Web of Science (and other databases), you can see why more and more researchers depend on them to locate all of the essays written by a particular scholar or to determine what studies are being referred to most frequently or to obtain a complete listing of all of the articles on a subject that have been cited in a prominent journal.

Next are some examples of databases that you may be able to access at your library. (The producers of these databases are continually updating their products. The years of coverage and the number of journals indexed may have changed.)


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Introduction to Literature Copyright © by William Stewart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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