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Biosciences: Effective Library Research: 5. Research databases

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

Research database title slideResearch databases are a good place to find scholarly literature. Research databases provide access to research, including journal articles, conference proceedings and book chapters.

The core databases for your subject are highlighted here.

There are many more databases you may like to consider searching as part of your research. Details of all of the databases you can access are available through the A-Z databases list.


Learn more about what databases are and why they are important below, before completing the database search tutorial activities.


A-Z Databases Demo

A-Z Database Demonstration



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 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

There are many different databases. Their interfaces will all vary, and they may use different terminology.

However, they all have similar features. Once you are familiar with these, you'll be able to find your way around different databases. You can see the main features in the examples below.

This is what a standard database interface looks like:

Once you click the Search button, the results page appears:

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.



Biosis Citation Index

Biosis is an index to life sciences literature from across the globe. Subject coverage ranging from traditional areas of biology such as botany, zoology, and microbiology, to related and interdisciplinary fields such as agriculture, biotechnology, ecology and pharmacology. You can link out to the full-texts if they are part of our collection.

Watch the video below for an introduction on how to search the platform. Click here for a quick guide to the Biosis Citation Index.

Web of Science

Web of Science is a large multidisciplinary research database covering all subject areas.

You can use it to discover the global literature on a wide range of topics.  It is not a full text database, but you can use it to discover published material and follow links through to discover the full text available on other services. For in depth guidance explore the Web of Science learning siteYouTube Videos or the Web of Science LibGuide.

Web of Science search image

Environment Complete

Environment Complete provides full text content of environmental literature from across the world. Subject coverage includes agriculture, ecosystem ecology, renewable energy sources, geography, pollution & waste management, environmental technology, urban planning, and more. 

Environment Complete uses the EBSCOHost platform. Watch the video below for an introduction on how to search the platform.

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