Skip to Main Content

Course & Subject Guides

Information for International Students

This guide provides information about using the library at Pitt, including help with researching, writing, and citing.


A database is an online collection of articles that you can search by topic or keyword.  Databases are great sources for articles because much of the material in ULS databases is the high quality, scholarly research information that most professors want.  Most of our databases offer links to the full text of articles.  To search a database:

  • If you know the name of the database you want to search, start at the Databases A-Z list. 
  • If you’re not sure which database to search, you can search databases in a particular Subject, or just ask a librarian for guidance by calling 412-648-7800 or chatting online at Ask-A-Librarian.

Searching Techniques

Article databases, online library catalogs, and popular search engines share several general searching techniques. Once you master these common searching techniques, you will save yourself time and find more relevant results.

Selecting Keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

  1. Express your topic in a topic sentence: “What is the effect of television violence on children?”
  2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence:  “What is the effect of television violence on children?” = Effect;  Television,  Violence, or  Television violence; and Children
  3. Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:
  • Television – media, TV
  • Violence – aggression
  • Effect – influence
  • Children – toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls

Combing Search Terms

You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are mathematics and curriculum:

  • AND – Narrows and focuses the search results. The search mathematics and curriculum will bring only results where both the terms mathematics and curriculum are present.  
  • OR – Broadens the search results. Using or will bring results where the term mathematics is present, or results where curriculum is present, or results where both terms are present.  Or is useful if you have more than one way to refer to a concept -- Example: elementary or primary.
  • NOT – Excludes anything where the term after the NOT is present. 


Some databases automatically search terms for singular, plural, and various other endings.

Some databases use a truncation symbol to indicate that any ending is acceptable after exactly matching the letters entered.

  • gene*       will find    gene, genes, genetic, genetics, genetically         but not genome or genomics
  • vaccin*    will find    vaccine, vaccines, vaccinate, vaccinated, vaccination, vaccinations

The actual symbol used will vary among databases. The asterisk (*) is most common, but some use a ? or other symbol, so check your database.

What Makes Information "Scholarly"?

Instructors often ask students to find “scholarly”, “academic”, or “peer reviewed” sources of information for their research.  These terms all refer to the same type of information – sources based on in-depth research, and are considered higher in quality and more reliable for your research. 

These sources can range from chapters within books or entire books, or journal articles, but all have common characteristics that can help you recognize that type of information.

English Chinese Korean Japanese French Spanish Arabic
Scholarly journal 学术期刊 학술지 学術ジャーナル érudit

publicación arbitrada /

publicación academica

المجلة العلمية
Peer-reviewed Journal 同级评审期刊 논문 심사 학술지 査読 ジャーナル revue évaluée par les pairs publicación arbitrada دوريات أكاديمية