Searches on databases and specialised portals


The purpose of bibliographic databases and specialised portals is to gather and offer high-quality bibliographic information about the scientific and technical documents that have been published. Therefore, they detail and provide information identifying the publications (author, title, type of publication, date, etc.) and information about their content (topics, keywords, subjects, abstract, etc.).

Here are some basic tips for searching for information on databases and specialised portals.

Basic advises


Create a personal user account

Most databases and information portals allow you to create your personal user account. When you do this you create your profile, where you will save your search history, documents of interest to you, etc.

Take the tool’s language into account

Large databases and specialised portals are normally international products and their working language is English. The documents about which they gather information may be written in other languages, but the language in which they are described is English. Bear this in mind when performing your searches.

Adapt the search terms to meet your needs

Think about relevant words to start your search. Use general terms that will provide you with a higher number of results. If you need to reduce or refine the results, you can use more specific terms, keywords and specialised vocabulary.

Do not use empty terms, i.e. words that are not significant.

Combine natural language with controlled vocabulary

Natural language is characterised by the use of free terms. There may be different terms (synonyms) for expressing the same idea.

Controlled vocabulary is characterised by using standard terms. In controlled vocabulary there is a single term to express an idea. Specialists in each subject determine what term to use to describe each concept. Using controlled vocabulary makes it easier to categorise information and find the most suitable documents for your needs.

Use a Thesaurus

A thesaurus is an organised and structured list of terms that allows you to see what term is preferably used to refer to a concept, know the family of terms in which it is included and the relationships between them (more general terms, more specific terms, related terms, etc.). Thesauruses are very handy for the searching and thematic analysis of documents. One of the most useful controlled vocabularies is UNESCO’s Multidisciplinary International Thesaurus.

Many specialised information portals and databases include their own thesauruses: for example, on the Engineering Village platform each of the Inspec and Compendex databases provides its own thesaurus.

Consider the variety of search fields

Information portals and databases organise information into different fields, i.e. in indexes, thus facilitating specific searches in certain parts of the bibliographic records.

Often, together with the ‘search in all fields’ and ‘search in any field’ options, you will be find the option to search in specific fields (‘in title’, ‘in author(s)’, ‘in subject’, etc.) or the option to search in several fields at once (e.g. in ‘title, abstract and keywords’). The more specific the search field, the more specific your results will be.

Use the Boolean operators

Logical operators (AND, OR, NOT) are useful for combining several search terms in a single field and for combining simultaneous searches in several different fields.

Perform combined searches

Many information portals allow you to combine previous searches in a single large combined search, without having to repeat them one by one. This may be useful when you need very specific information and you need to refine the search results.