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Having trouble finding the right articles? Try using the Database Thesaurus

Electronic resources, such as online databases have forever changed the way we conduct scholarly research. It is now easier than ever to search through thousands of journal articles in the blink of an eye and retrieve quality articles that are relevant to your search terms. However, simply using everyday words or phrases as your search terms, or Natural Language search terms, might not always be the best way to go about searching within a database. Luckily, many databases provide users with a customized thesaurus that can connect users with the terminology used within the database, resulting in much more accurate and relevant search results.

The Ohio State University Libraries provide a good explanation of database thesauri:
A thesaurus is a list of predetermined words and phrases that describe the subject matter of a database. A synonym for "thesaurus" is "controlled vocabulary" because the database creators "control" the vocabulary assigned to the database's subject headings. A real-world example of a thesaurus is the list of subject headings used in the telephone Yellow Pages. That is, whether you want to find a lawyer or an attorney (or an ambulance-chaser) in the Yellow Pages you must look under "Attorneys." This actually helps you out--provided you know what term to use--because you only have to look under one heading in order to find yourself a good lawyer.

An information database often has an accompanying thesaurus. An online database like ERIC and PsycINFO may have an online thesaurus incorporated into it. Other databases, whether online or print, may have printed thesauri that you can use in tandem with the databases.

One popular database we can use to highlight its thesaurus is PsycInfo. From the initial basic search screen that appears when you first open PsycInfo, click on the “Search Tools��? link within the green search area. Underneath the search box, change the selection from “Map Term��? to “Thesaurus��? and enter your desired terms. For example, a search of “Substance Abuse��? will produce the term “Drug Abuse��? within the thesaurus. From there, the thesaurus provides broader, related, and narrower terms that pertain to drug abuse and can help refine your search. While “substance abuse��? might have produced some results within PsycInfo, “drug abuse��? is the official term used in the database thesaurus, and will return articles that are better suited to your topic.

Other databases with easily accessible thesauri include EBSCO’s ERIC and Medline databases. For both databases, the link to the thesauri is located at the very top of the search screen. In Medline the link to the thesaurus is called MeSH, while in ERIC it is simply called Thesaurus. While they may be named differently, they function nearly identically. After clicking on the link, you are given a search box to input your natural language terms, which the database will then attempt to retrieve the corresponding term within its thesaurus. From there you can use the controlled vocabulary provided by the thesaurus to find articles under the same heading.

In addition to being readily available through the database, the thesauri for both PsychInfo and ERIC can be found in print in the Reference section of the library. Their call numbers are as follows:

Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms
Dewey Library / Reference Z 695.1 P7 T48

Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors
Dewey Library / Reference Z 695.1 E3 E34

Other less frequently used databases also have thesauri. If you are not sure if the database you are using has th is feature or have any questions regarding the use of database thesauri, bring your questions to the Reference Desk, email us at dewref@albany.edu or give us a call at 442-3691.

Blog post created by Matthew Laudicina