Using Academic Databases for Research Paper Writing

There’s an immediate temptation to jump on the internet and use a search engine to find sources for your research paper. While that’s not a bad idea at some point in the process, mainly to build up some background research and then, later, to find a few extra tidbits of information, the meat of your research paper sources will generally be found in academic databases.

Using Your University Network

While accessing the databases to which your college subscribes will vary somewhat from school to school, you can generally easily find a variety of resources on the university library’s web page. You’ll probably need to log in with your student ID to do so. Depending on the way the network functions, you may need to be on campus. In some cases, though, you can access the databases from anywhere.

Types of Academic Database

Which databases you use will depend on the discipline you’re studying. However, the most popular for most research papers include the following:

  • JSTOR
  • LEXIS-NEXIS
  • Academic Search Premier

These resources will have at least some information for almost every discipline. Both JSTOR and Academic Search Premier contain academic journals. JSTOR also has books and other publications, including primary research publications. LEXIS-NEXIS consists of news, legal information, and some public records. If the sources you seek are peer reviewed journals, you’ll find the most material in JSTOR and Academic Search Premier. If you’re looking for information about a historical event, society, or culture, you’ll also find some supplementary material in LEXIS-NEXIS. Financial and political research often requires LEXIS-NEXIS sources as well.

Searching Academic Databases

Each database requires a bit of practice to search effectively. Take note of whether the full text of a source is available, or simply an abstract. If there’s a particularly tantalizing abstract, take the information for that journal to your school librarian to see if it’s either available at your university or through an interlibrary loan.

Organizing Your Sources

One of the great advantages of using academic databases is the ability to save your references in a form which will be easy to add to your bibliography, footnotes, or inline citations. Many of the available academic databases will allow you to save a list of sources, formatted in your choice of popular style. So if your professor requires MLA formatting, or APA, the database may pre-format the source information for you to print out, email, or copy.