Academic databases

From the moment you begin your dissertation to the day you hand it in, you will be carrying out a substantial amount of research.

One of the most important factors to bear in mind is that, when it comes to research, it’s about quality, not quantity. We live in a rapid information age where information is very easily accessible, especially through the use of online search engines. No matter how obscure your dissertation topic is, Google will usually be able to find a Wikipedia article or someone on Yahoo Answers who has asked about it. This is why the research aspect, on the surface, may seem quite an easy thing to accomplish.

Unfortunately, your tutors also know about Wikipedia. Therefore, they are looking for research that is far more in depth and took more effort than a Google search to find.

This is where academic databases come in handy. If you are not familiar with these from your previous years of study, they are online libraries of resources. Some of them are specifically for one area of study, but most of them can be used for just about any subject. The reason why these are so useful is not just because of the vast amount of resources they hold, but because your university should be able to allow you to use them for free.

Therefore, these are not resources to be ignored. Your university wants you to use them so that they get their money’s worth!

Below are some examples of academic databases that should be accessible from your university:


JSTOR is a not-for-profit database that holds over 1,400 academic journals and a wide variety of primary sources. It is easy to use and much of its content is free to download as a PDF. However, you should be able to view everything by logging in with your university library.


Athens works in pretty much the same way, except you are able to personalise your account with papers that you have read and downloaded. However, this may only be available to individual account holders, not accounts for institutions such as universities.

Google books

If you really want to find snippets of information quickly without logging into an account, then look no further then Google books. Although you are unable to view most resources entirely for free, you can usually get a preview and search for a particular phrase or word. This database can be used to tidy up your bibliography by finding page numbers, publisher names and full names of the authors.

However, there can be some downsides to using these resources.

  1. Sometimes they can only be accessed for free from your university network. Therefore, you have to find a comfortable spot at your university library to sift through its resources. This can be easier said than done during deadline season.
  2. Although the databases provide access to papers, they may only let you download or print them for a fee.
  3. You may spend more time looking for the right sources than actually reading any of them. Make sure you know what you are looking for!

Academic databases are an extremely useful tool that your university provide for you, so take advantage of them as much as you can for your dissertation. You’ll find that you will gain higher quality resources, more reliable than anything you will find on Wikipedia, and with the various search tools you will find discovering new and relevant information a breeze.