Answered By: Doug Bolden
Last Updated: Oct 07, 2015     Views: 54

There is no one way to do it.

If you remember the database and if you have a complete citation, then it can be pretty simple. For most databases going back to the database and then searching for the article title (if the title is long enough, which by the nature of the beast, it usually is) will get you a short list of possible hits. You do not even necessarily have to use the "Title" field to specify but it can help. The caveat here: if the title has punctuation in it, :'s (colons) and -'s (dashes) are very common, it is often best to try and search for the title UP TO the first instance or possibly everything AFTER the punctuation. This is especially true of -'s which some search engines treat as meaning "Not the words after this sign".

For example, if the title is "The long march to freedom in the 80s: how companies in the Soviet Union gained brand identity" [I made this up, but does sound fun, right?], then you probably want to use either the bit before or after the colon.

If you have a good citation but do not remember the database, you want to find the journal title (not the article title) and then go through our "Find a Journal by Title" feature. Type in the journal title there, click search. Now, you have to look through the available sources and pick one that has that journal title for the date range you need. Often from there you can navigate the journal by date, or click something like a "search within this publication" link and repeat the above advice.

If you have only scattered information (author name, article title) then there are different ways. Here are some tips:

  1. Try a Google or Google Scholar search with as much information as you can. The title. Maybe the author (but see #2). The date. Not only do you stand a chance of getting the article as a full text result, but hopefully you'll find a more complete citation, etc, and be able to follow the steps above. Sometimes what this means is you'll find another article that cites the article that you want, but that's ok. That's what the above information was for.
  2. Be careful with the author name. Some databases are kind of tricky about how they search it (expecting it to be in a very particular format). Your best bet is probably to use only the last name if at all possible. Double check the spelling, a lot of failed searches I have seen have made relatively minor typos in the author's name and that can make a big difference.
  3. Some databases are more broad than others: Academic Search Premier, ABI/Inform, Gale Complete Databases, PubMed, and JSTOR are some good examples (also, as you go to our databases page, you'll see others in the Quick Start section). Try a title search there (see #2 about using the author name). Do this without specifying "only full-text" style options because you have a better chance of getting at least a citation/abstract even if that particular database does not have the full text. Once you find the better citation, you can do the steps above.

It is not always real simple to refind something (despite being a common assumption that remembering past searches will be a breeze). This is why it is a good practise to include the database you found the article in the citation. "Accessed through PubMed" can save you a lot of time (as well as any classmate/professor trying to follow up on your reserach).