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Search methods & techniques: Select databases & search engines

Select your databases & search engines

The type of information source you use depends on the stage of your literature research. When you are starting to explore a topic you can use all kinds of sources for inspiration; blogs, Wikipedia, newspaper articles, opinion and current affairs magazines, handbooks, encyclopaedias and reference works. sEURch also is very useful for subject searching in the exploratory stage of your literature search.

After you have formulated your research question(s) and decided on appropriate keywords you can start your real search. At this stage you may want to continue using the sEURch interface to search across multiple databases but restrict your search set to those databases that yielded the most relevant results in your preliminary search. To select/deselect databases click Advanced Search under the search box on the front page.

It is important to know that not all databases offered by the University Library are covered by sEURch: some publishers don’t want their journals, books or databases being indexed. Especially the fields of Law and Medicine have insufficient coverage. If sEURch is not giving you the results you expect you may prefer to use the richer indexing of a database dedicated to a specific discipline for the next stage of your literature search. Select the right database with the A-Z list of databasesSelect your subject at All Subjects and if you wish, the specific database type at All Database Types. The result of your selection is a list of databases of a certain database type within a specific discipline (e.g. References works within the Sociology discipline). 

Take notice as well of the Guides per discipline. These guides give you an overview of recommended sources per faculty or discipline, e.g. databases to find literature and background information, e-journals and discipline specific sources.

ChatGPT is not a search engine

Part of the hype surrounding ChatGPT is that it is supposed to be a better search engine supposedly taking out the messy middle part where you have to actually find the links, read the article, and summarize the research for your assignment. The problem is, ChatGPT is not a search engine, and it does not have a concrete databank of references to pull from, and, more importantly, it is also prone to what is called “hallucination.” When ChatGPT “hallucinates,” this is a nice way of saying that it fabricates an answer, writing something which sounds like it might be right, but which is often not correct or is completely fake. This can happen at any time, from when it answers questions to when you ask it to provide references.

To check this, let’s give ChatGPT a simple prompt, “Provide a list of references including both books and articles on immigration to the Netherlands in English and Dutch.” When I asked ChatGPT it gave me a list of four books and three articles in English and two books and two articles in Dutch. Seems like a great place to start for a research project! But wait, no its not. Let’s focus on those Dutch references I asked for.


If you look up “Migratie in Nederland: De lange aanloop naar een multiculturele samenleving” by Han Entzinger and “Migratierecht en Beleid: Teksten en Commentaar” by T.P. Spijkerboer you’ll have a hard time finding anything about either book because neither book exists. The authors are very real scholars, with Prof. Dr. Entzinger being an Emeritus professor at the EUR, but neither of them ever wrote the book attributed to them by ChatGPT nor did anyone else as both are hallucinations. And for the articles, it’s not any better. While Migrantenstudies was a real Dutch journal, and Prof. Entzinger even published an article in the journal in 2009, the article provided by ChatGPT is another hallucination. The actual article he wrote was titled, “Integratie, maar uit de gratie. Multi-etnisch samenleven onder Rotterdamse jongeren.” It’s only on the last reference that ChatGPT kinda of got it right, though as you can see it’s not a Dutch reference and it’s also a book not an article, but it is at least an actual book. But even here, it’s not that helpful since the book doesn’t cover the research question about immigration to the Netherlands. When you are choosing a search engine or database, for the moment, stay clear of ChatGPT.


Database related information:

Related guides: