Choosing library databases
Many disciplines have a comprehensive bibliographic database that lists and organizes most of the literature in the discipline.
For example, if your discipline is education, your "go-to" database is ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center), which contains records for more than 1.5 million journal articles, conference papers, dissertations, and other documents on the topic of education. If your discipline is philosophy, your discipline's most important database is Philosopher's Index, which provides records for more than 600,000 philosophy papers and books published from 1902 to the present.
How can you find the comprehensive bibliographic database for your discipline?
Consult the Resources By Subject page. Important databases for each discipline are listed here.
Ask your librarian! On the OU Libraries website, you can find out which librarian specializes in your discipline.
What if your discipline doesn't have a comprehensive bibliographic database?
If you are researching an interdisciplinary topic, you might need to use databases from several different disciplines. For instance, if you are a Women's & Gender Studies student researching the challenges that transgender people face in accessing appropriate medical care, you might need to consult databases associated with the disciplines of medicine, psychology, and social work. Your librarian can give you advice about this.
Searching "grey literature"
Library databases do a very good job of listing and organizing the published literature of a discipline -- particularly articles and books. Many library databases also include conference papers, reports, and other kinds of documents.
However, many disciplines produce information that might not be part of library databases. For example, the discipline of engineering produces countless technical report series published by universities, funding agencies, government agencies, and professional engineering societies. Some, but not all, of these report series are indexed in engineering's comprehensive database (Engineering Information Village).
It can be difficult to find documents that aren't published commercially and aren't accessible via library databases. As a whole, these documents are sometimes referred to as "grey literature."
Grey literature search tips
Identify the important professional societies in your discipline, and search their web sites for publications or report series.
Examine the "works cited" section of seminal published books and articles on your topic.
Consult your librarian.
Use a web browser such as Google to search for "grey literature in engineering" or "grey literature in economics" (or whatever your discipline is). You are likely to find that someone has already created a guide to lead you to appropriate resources. For example:
Grey literature in engineering (created by University of Southern California Libraries)
Grey literature in public health (created by the New York Academy of Medicine)
Grey literature in the humanities and social sciences (created by Margaret Smith of New York University Libraries)
Keeping track of your searches
As you search different sources -- such as library databases, the library catalog, grey literature sites, Google or Google Scholar, and so forth -- you will find it helpful to stay organized so that you don't end up "going around in circles," duplicating your efforts because you can't remember what you've already done.
This worksheet from the University of Leeds shows you one approach to organizing your search activities. The University of Hong Kong has also produced a "database search log" that you might find useful.