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Research Toolkit

Answers for common research questions.


Welcome to the CCNY Libraries! In this guide, you'll find information about how to use the library resources, including how to conduct effective searches, how to use the library website and databases, how to use key words and Boolean operators, and how to identify peer-reviewed sources.

The tabs below cover some introductory concepts around database and library-based research.

Use the chat box in the sidebar to the left to connect with a CCNY librarian if you have any questions or want more information while you review these materials.

What is a Database?

A database is an organized, online collection of information. The most common type of database includes primarily articles, so that will be the focus here.

In many databases, the articles are organized by subject; in such cases, you will see clickable subject terms that you can use to find more on that topic. Many databases also make it possible to search by other characteristics of an article. You may be able to look for articles that have been published after a certain date, peer-reviewed articles, or articles of a particular type.

Although databases allow you to search for information online, they are different from search engines because they include the information that you will find, not just the search box. Because of this, you will have different search results from one database to another, and most of them wouldn't be available from the open Web.

Some databases provide information only in certain, specific fields. For example, you would search BioOne for biology articles and MLA International Bibliography for literary criticism. Other databases, like JSTOR or Academic Search Complete, include information on a variety of subjects.

Besides journal, magazine and newspaper articles, databases can also consist of encyclopedia articles, images from art collections, digitized historical documents, library catalogs, statistical information, or almost anything.

Choosing the Right Database

Some databases are multi-disciplinary, meaning the contain content from a wide range of academic disciplines and subjects. Multi-disciplinary databases can a good starting point for research, as you're likely to find articles on your topic. Examples of multi-disciplinary databases include OneSearch, Academic Search Complete, JSTOR, and Academic OneFile. You can see our full list of multi-disciplinary databases here.

Other databases focus on a particular subject. This means that, as long as you are using an appropriate database, you will find more material on your topic and less irrelevant information. But how do you select the best database? Here are some tips.

Begin by selecting Databases from the Research drop-down in the top navigation menu of the CCNY Libraries homepage.

The library subscribes to over 300 different databases. By default, they are sorted alphabetically. Use the Subject drop-down menu to filter databases by academic discipline. For each database listed, you can see the title, followed by a description of the database, the publication dates covered, and the kinds of materials included.

Tip: Library specialists have prepared a variety of subject-specific research guides that describe research standards and practices for departments and subjects at CCNY. These guides often suggest relevant databases, or you can use the chat box to ask a librarian directly.