Session 3. Search Databases

6 hours

Students are introduced to useful scholarly databases and learn to search effectively for information for specific research needs. A librarian or researcher presents and demonstrates key sites and tools. They remain available to support students as they put their new skills into practice.



Preparation for you, the facilitator

  • As the key facilitator, brief the librarian or co-facilitator on the learner-centred, participatory approach. You can show them what it looks like in this and other videos.

  • Identify in advance the databases that are available to your group of students. Ensure that the librarian or other co-facilitator is familiar with them and bases their presentation on them.
  • Equipment: Each student needs their own laptop and wi-fi access. The resource person needs a projector connected to their laptop and a screen to project onto. Test all equipment in advance.

Guides for the resource person and/or students:

Additional reading:


By the end of the session, students can:

  •  identify and access electronic databases appropriate to their discipline/s
  • understand how to use database search techniques and search terms such as keywords/text words and subject headings
  • transfer search skills to other databases
  • store and organize information systematically and transparently
  •  understand how to keep track of the search process and to stay up-to-date
2 hours1. Introduce and demonstrate databases and searchesResource person with full group
4 hours2. Search for relevant papers in your disciplineStudents
  • 1. Introduce and demonstrate databases and searches
    2 hours
    The resource person presents information using a projector to demonstrate steps. Here is one possible sequence. Your resource person may offer alternatives.

    Develop a search strategy
    • Define ‘search strategy’ and explain its importance.
    • Explain keywords, synonyms, truncation, wild cards and controlled vocabulary such as Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

    Introduce PubMed® and title/abstract searching
    • Apply filters such as study design (e.g. systematic reviews), age and date of publication.
    • Scan initial results for relevance.
    • Make any amendments to strategy if necessary and re-run the search.

    Customize search strategies developed for use in other databases
    • Tailor this to the databases that are accessible in your and the students’ institutions.
    • Find out which symbols each specific database uses, e.g. * or ?
    • Run searches and scan the results for relevance.
    • Re-run the search if necessary.

    Introduce Research4Life using Hinari Access to Research for Health Programme as an example to access full-text journal articles.

    Step 2. Search for relevant papers in your discipline
    4 hours
    Students apply what they have learned in order to search for relevant papers from their own disciplinary perspective. Teams define their search strategy.

    Facilitator/s and resource people help students to search in the most appropriate database, with the appropriate search terms and syntax for each. Crucially, they remind students to exclude references that may be relevant but are not from their discipline.

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