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Finding Journal Articles

1. Where do I look for journal articles?

If you're looking for journal articles on a particular topic you won't find them using the Library Catalogue - the Catalogue will give you the names of the journals we have access to, but not the articles that the journals contain. To search for journal articles you need to use one of the library's electronic databases. The Library holds a small number of journals in print, but the vast majority of the journals the Library has access to are only available online.

2. What is a database?

A library database is a collection of information which is available electronically. Most databases are indexes of journal articles, but some provide other information, including legal cases and commentary, research reports, video clips and photographs.

Most databases provide the full text of articles, but they won't have the full text of every article. Some databases will only provide a citation and/or abstract (summary). Databases can be searched in various ways, but usually by keyword, author, title and subject.

Some databases are of a general nature covering a variety of topics, like Academic Search Complete. Others are specific to an area of knowledge, like the nursing database CINAHL with Full Text.

3. When should I use a library database?

You may have been told to find journal articles. If you're not sure whether to look at articles or books, it's probably a good idea to look for books first and then move on to articles. Books are usually best for an overview of a topic, while articles are a good place to find detailed and relevant information on some particular aspect of a topic, particularly if you are looking for up to date information. Books often take years to be published, so articles are the best place to look for information on anything that's happened recently.

4. Selecting and accessing a database

From the Library's home page, you have two options to access the databases:

  1. If you are not sure what database to use, look at the Subject Guides. Choose the subject heading relevant to your assignment or course of study. Click on the "Articles" or "Databases" tab in the subject guide to find links to the relevant databases for that topic.
  2. If you know which database you wish to search use the Databases A-Z list.

Once you have decided which way to go, you will be ready to start searching.

5. Searching

When searching databases, the same principles apply as for searching the Library Catalogue. Databases are generally much bigger than the catalogue, however – the largest ones index thousands of journals. The wide scope of databases makes them very useful for tracking down the material you need, but it can also be frustrating if you find that your searches are returning a large volume of irrelevant material. See tips for 'too many hits' below.

If searching individual databases from their native interface rather than via LibrarySearch  you may notice that each of the databases looks a bit different and contains different information but be reassured that the principles of searching them are basically the same:

  • All databases will have one or more search boxes on the first screen. This is where you type in your keywords (important words) that you want the database to look for.
  • If you have more than one search term you can use the other boxes or connect your search with AND to make your search more specific. E.g. Distance education AND online.
  • Each database has its own HELP available.


Note: Most of our databases are international in scope but some are labelled as having a New Zealand focus. If you're looking for specifically New Zealand material it's worth trying both international and New Zealand databases. Databases can be multidisciplinary or specific to a particular subject, but don’t let the existence of a database dedicated to your subject keep you from trying multidisciplinary resources as well.

6. Dealing with Results

  • Too many hits or not enough


    • Try reducing your hits by adding in another keyword. Join the keywords together with AND. For example, education AND early childhood AND curriculum.
    • Expand your hits by using synonyms or broader terms. Join synonyms with OR. For example, fashion OR costume.

    • Expand your hits by using a truncation symbol for keywords that could have alternative word endings. For example, environment* will find environment, environments, environmental, environmentalism, environmentalist.

    • Make your search more specific by doing a phrase search whereby you enclose a phrase in speech marks or quotes. For example, "Treaty of Waitangi" will look for those words together as a phrase.

  • Getting to the article


    • Full text Databases Most databases provide full text access to articles. The fastest way to access the full text of an article is to click on the "full text" link from the article listing on the database's Search Results screen.

      You may see a link to one or more of the following:

      • HTML Full Text i.e. article in plain text, and/or
        Page Image i.e. a photograph of the page or
        PDF i.e. the journal pages are scanned. You will need Adobe Acrobat to view PDF files

      • Link to publisher's page -- Sometimes the link is a two stage process from the database to the Publishers page and then full text access.

      • Held in Unitec Library -- Where you see this note it indicates we hold the print journal in the Library. However you will still need to check the Library's holdings to see if we have the specific issue you want.

    • Index Only Databases Some records only contain a citation and abstract, to give you a reference that you can follow up. An article that is only available as an abstract in one database may be available in full text in another. To find out if an article is available, click on the button with the Unitec icon that says "check for fulltext". If an article isn't available through Unitec resources, ask at the Library Information Desk or contact the Information librarians who may be able to help.

    • Printing/emailing/saving Articles can be marked, or selected, and then printed, saved to usb or to your hard-drive if you are at your home computer, or emailed.

7. Troubleshooting

  • System too slow Set your browser to enable javascript and accept all cookies. (These may already be set up. They are not vital but your searching will be smoother and faster if they are set up). Clear your cache regularly.

  • I want to use the databases from work, but am having problems If you are in a company's network and the network is behind a firewall or proxy server, you should contact your company's system administrator for instructions before you change the proxy setting in your browser.

  • Your ISP must allow you to connect directly to an external proxy browser If your ISP DOES NOT ALLOW you to connect directly to sites using your browser then you will not be able to connect to and use the Remote Access Proxy. Contact your ISP's helpdesk.

  • Can't view the .pdf file You will need to have the free plug in Adobe Acrobat Reader. Some .pdf files are very large and take a long time to download (e.g. some from our NZ Standards database). Using the Firefox browser can help with downloading large .pdf files. Alternatively, you can right-click on the .pdf file link, choose the option "Save Target As" and save the file to a suitable folder.

8. Connecting from off-campus

You will need:

  • An internet browser
    • MS Internet Explorer (version 7 or later)
    • Firefox and other browsers are also acceptable, though some pages may display slightly differently. Some databases seem to work better when viewed with Firefox.
  • A username and password. (Your computer login for students or your staff login.)

If you have difficulties connecting or logging in, contact AskIMS (ph: (09) 815 4321 xtn 8484).