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Criminal Justice

Choosing a Database

Pick databases that matches the subject matter of your chosen topic.

  • Databases can be multidisciplinary or they can specialize in specific subject areas. There are nursing databases, education databases, criminal justice databases, etc.
  • Search more than one database for a comprehensive search on a topic. Although there may be some overlap, each database contains different journals and provides different results.
  • Check out this guide for a list of relevant databases.

Exploratory Searching

Explore the database and see what's there.

Remember, your initial searches are a guess about how the author has described the topic in the title and abstract. You are trying to match your keywords to their words. 

  1. Run some exploratory searches in the database using different keywords from your list.
  2. Browse your search results. In most databases, you will need to click on the title to read the abstract.
  3. Look for relevant articles.
  4. Look for subject headings.  Most databases assign subject headings for each article. These indicate the main topics of the article. If there is an appropriate subject heading for one of your concepts use it to search instead of your keywords! 
  5. Revise and Refine. Initial searches can often be improved. Evaluate your results and then search again using alternative keywords or appropriate subject headings found in your initial results.

Setting up the Search:

1. As a general rule, start with broad searches. Cast a wide net and explore your results. After you have determined the best keywords/subject headings, start to limit your search.

  • Start with only 2 of your concepts. Prioritize your concepts and begin with the two most important concepts.
  • Don't use any limiters initially (date restrictions, peer-reviewed, etc.). It is easier to narrow down your search than expand it.

2. Most databases have multiple search boxes near the top of the page.

  • Enter each of your core concepts separately.
  • If you don't see the individual search boxes, click on the Advanced Search option.

Here is an example of how to set up a keyword search using the our search example.

 1. Type in your keywords.

  First search box:


  Second search box:

"college students"

     Please note: This term is searched as a phrase since it is in quotes.

2. Click the Search button.

Adapted from Nova Southeastern University (3/20)

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