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Biological Sciences: Using Databases

Databases are subject based search engines that enable you to search across a large number of journals simultaneously.  In addition to research articles from academic journals, databases also index conference proceedings, book chapters, review articles and more.

Before using databases, remember to break your search/topic down into two or three key concepts.

  • Think of keywords, including synonyms, for each concept.
  • For databases such as Medline, Web of Science and Scopus, search for your keywords or concepts one at a time.
  • Once you have searched for each keyword separately use OR to combine the synonyms and finally, AND to combine each concept.
  • Use the limits in the database to further reduce your search results.
  • Searches carried out can be saved or alerts created - set up a user account within the database.
  • For each search result, use the  link to check if it is available via the QUB Library.  If the full text is not available via the QUB Library, you may be able to request an interlibrary loan for the item.
Please contact your subject librarian , or refer to our Database FAQs if you require further help in using these resources.

Building Your Search

The video tutorial on the right hand side of this page will show how to develop a search strategy using the following topic as an example:

Articles about the spread of bovine tuberculosis via badgers in Ireland

Here is a quick 5-step guide to creating a search strategy:

1. Identify the key concepts you need to search for:

bovine tuberculosis          badgers           Ireland

2. Think of alternative terms for your concepts - plan to search for these, too:

bovine TB                        meles meles     Irish

mycobacterium bovis

3. Plan a separate search for each concept, including the alternative terms - use truncation (*) to search word variations, and quotation marks (") to search for phrases:

Search 1

Search 2

Search 3

“bovine tuberculosis”






“bovine tb”

“meles meles”





“mycobacterium bovis”



4. Once you have run each concept search, plan to combine each concept search with 'AND'.

5. Finally, think of any filters you can use to improve the relevancy of results (e.g. date range or document type)


Key Databases for Biological Sciences