You know how they say you should always read the introduction to a book' The same is true for the databases you use. The more you know about a record that you're looking at, the better your research will be. The more you know about a collection, the better your searches will be. (Sounds like learning about the records you're using is a good idea!) Collection descriptions are a great resource and one that you should add to your genealogy toolkit.
What's in a Collection Description
Background of the Collection. Knowing why the records were created helps you to understand the full meaning of the record. It can help you evaluate whether or not your ancestor should be included. In the description for London, England, Clandestine Marriage and Baptism Registers, 1667-1754, we learn about marriage laws for this time period in England and what it means for a marriage to be "clandestine."
Source. It's always good to know where a record came from. Here we see that Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 is a combination of a marriage index done by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Jordan Dodd.
Coverage. Sometimes there are gaps in a collection. The collection description will help you see those. For example, because of how the WPA put together the Indiana marriage index, not all years for all counties are included. Let's say that your family was from Lawrence County, Indiana. The records in this collection include Lawrence County from 1818-1834. If you don't find your Lawrence County people in this collection, it doesn't necessarily mean they weren't married there. They may have gotten married after 1834 and aren't in this collection.
Search Tips. Some collections are a little bit different in how you should search them. Ohio, Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-2007 is one of them. The data from the Department of Health cut off the first names after seven letters. The collection description describes this.
Other Information. Some descriptions contain links to additional resources and related collections.
Finding the Collection Description
When you search a specific collection, scroll down past the search form. You can also get to it from a specific record. In the information under the "Save This Record" is a link to "Learn more." Click that link and you'll get to the main for that collection; scroll down below the search form and you'll see the full description.