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TSL 4240: Library Resources

Issues in Second Language Acquisition

Using Databases Effectively

Most databases are repositories of previously published information, although some may contain original content. Databases are far from stagnant!  They are updated constantly, and may contain articles that were just published within the past day or two. The databases we'll feature in this class are ERIC (an Ebsco and ProQuest product); Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (a ProQuest product), and Education Source (also an Ebsco product).  When databases have the same provider, such as Ebsco, then the search page is formatted very similarly for all Ebsco databases, which makes it easy to transition from using one to using another.  Although the search interface looks similar, the difference between ERIC and Education Source or other databases lies in the content:  the journals contained within that database will differ depending upon what the focus of that database is:  education, nursing, psychology and other disciplines have specific databases.

Consider databases as research tools, and like the tools in a literal toolbox, they have specific applications and sometimes take a bit of practice to use effectively.  Just as with literal power tools, research tools work most effectively when we use them correctly, which may mean we need to learn a bit in order to get the most out of them.  

Is it easier to use a website?  Yes.  But a Google search, or even a Google Scholar search, will likely not lead you to peer-reviewed academic journals without cost.  This is why academic libraries subscribe to databases:  to support student research assignments.  For academic research, academic databases are the power tool you'll need.

Here is some general information to help you set up a database search:
  1. Boolean Operators:  The three little words AND, OR, and NOT are actually very powerful, and are called Boolean Operators.  These three words (in the drop down box in front of each search box) allow us to build specific searches to combine search terms (this AND that), search different keywords similutaneously (this OR that) and to exclude certain search terms (this NOT that).  For example, if searching for second language acquisition related to elementary school children, a search might be: "second language acquisition" AND "elementary school OR grade school".  Another possible search might be: "teaching strategies OR teaching methods" AND "non-native English speakers". 
  2. Field Codes:  Following a search term, you may select a Field Code to further refine a search.  If you have an article citation, and need to find the full-text of the article, put the author's name (or primary author's name) in the search box: last name, first name then select the Field Code (AU) for author.  The Field Codes are identified within the drop down box.
  3. Help:  Most databases have a "Help" or "Search Tips" section, specific to that database, which is another useful tool.
  4. Limiters: You can refine a search by using limiters.  You can limit your search results to peer-reviewed journals by checking the box for "peer-reviewed", you can limit results by publication date, for example, from 2015-2020; and limit to research articles.  Not all articles in databases are research articles; databases may include newspaper and magazine articles.
  5. Limiting to Full Text: Although it seems like a good approach (and is, if you need an article immediately), UCF's Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery service can often locate articles which are not immediately available full-text in the database, so always limiting your search to full text could eliminate some excellent resources from your consideration.  The "How to..." Videos from UCF Libraries tab at the bottom of this Research Guide includes a short video on how to obtain articles that are not available in the database as full text.  It's easy and quick - the Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery service can often send you a link to the full-text article within a day or two.  
  6. Quotation marks:  Quotation marks around a search phrase will link the words together to prevent retrieving articles that contain one of your search terms, but not in the context you are searching.  For example, "grade point average" rather than grade point average (without quotes) would refine search results to the context you are seeking.  
  7. Truncation:  Truncation allows searching of all forms of a word, by adding an asterisk (*) to the root of the word.  For example, adding an asterisk to "educ*" will retrieve education, educators, educational, and educating. 

 

 

Research Articles: Ways to Identify Them

Although the content in databases weighs heavily on articles from academic journals, there are also magazine and newspaper articles in many databases.  A brief search of publications contained within the  Education Source database includes Time and Newsweek magazines, as well as the New York Times.  This does not mean the information contained in newspaper or magazine articles is without value - it often provides great foundational information on a topic - but these are not academic sources.  

In addition, not all articles in academic journals contain original research, and peer-review is not a guarantee that the article contains original research.  Academic journals often contain informative articles, which may have been peer-reviewed for accuracy, but these are not original research either.

When you are required to locate an article with original research, how do you build an effective search?  Start with your search term(s), and...
  1. Select "Peer reviewed" as publication type, as well as "academic journal" to begin to focus results. Remember, informational articles can be peer reviewed, so a "peer reviewed" designation is not a guarantee the article contains original research.  For Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts, click the box for "Peer Reviewed" and under "Source Type" select "Academic Journals" and "Article" under "Publication Type:.   For ERIC (Ebsco) select Journal Article under "Journal or Document" and Education Source select "Journal Article" under "Article Type" and "Academic Journal" under Publication Type.
  2. Examine your results, and click the title of the article for the Abstract.  Look for key terms in the Abstract, such as: research, methodology, data, survey, or hypothesis.  If you find some of these key terms or similar ones, explore the article further.
  3. Examine the full text of article you are interested in.  Look for elements of original research, including subheadings for all or some of the following:  a Literature Review (an overview of existing similar research) is toward the front of a research article; a subheading for Method/Methodology (what they examined and how they did it - surveys, focus groups, or an examination of existing data), Results or Findings (what the esearch indicated), Tables/Charts/Graphs (showing the research findings), and a Summary (what they learned, possible implications or a need for further examination) are also indications of original research.  Look a list of additional references following original research.