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Medical Sciences: Finding literature for assignments: 4. Research databases

Online tutorial introducing you to the skills and techniques needed for effective library research

When you have a search strategy you can move on to consider where you might find evidence to answer your question. Research databases are a good place to find scholarly evidence. Research databases provide access to research, including journal articles, conference proceedings and book chapters.

This section will guide you through applying a basic search on Medline (Ovid). This database will help you to identify a range of materials for your assessments.

It is important that you consider a range of sources in the search process as you are unlikely to find the information you need on one source alone. Details of all of the databases you can access are available through the A-Z databases list. You can go straight to your subject guide to get an idea of the key resources in your discipline.


Learn more about databases below and then complete the Medline tutorial activity.

What is a database?

What is a database?

Research databases enable you to see what has been published in the area you are researching. They contain detailed records of thousands of journal articles, book references and conference proceedings. These records usually include the article title, authors, abstract (a brief summary), keywords (to enable your search to find it) and more. 

Why should I use a database?

  • They are a valuable way of searching for published scholarly research across a wide number of sources
  • You will find greater numbers of relevant, scholarly papers using a specialist research database, rather than relying on a search engine to find literature
  • You can build complex searches using sophisticated search interfaces. There will be plenty of options to refine your searches, ensuring that the results are likely to be relevant to your needs
  • They contain huge numbers of records, and thus provide comprehensive subject coverage
  • They also provide frequent (often daily) indexing, and so are very up to date

You can tailor your search more precisely using all the sophisticated functionality available on the research databases.  

Click here to access a list of recommended databases for medical sciences. Use the A-Z list to see a complete list of every database available through the university library.

It is important to note:

  • Some databases provide full text access to the articles themselves.
  • Some databases are primarily indexes or bibliographic databases, and although they provide information about the content of a journal article, they may not provide full-text access to the actual article itself.
  • Some databases are a mixture of full-text and indexed/bibliographic access.

So, when searching databases, be prepared for an extra step. 

After finding a relevant article or book you need to check whether you have access to that item, either in print or in full-text online.  Many of the databases will have a Check for this at Exeter button; clicking on this link will check whether we have access to the item.


If the database you are searching does not have a 'check for this at Exeter button you'll need to search for the article or journal in Library Search, or log in via 'institution'. More information on accessing full-text articles through the library can be found here.

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