The problem with searching for journal articles using internet search engines

(Image c/o JD Hancock on Flickr)

Internet search engines are great. They help you find information quickly and easily. They are, however, not always necessarily the best tool to use in searching for academic papers. They are not particularly sophisticated and don’t necessarily point you in the right direction to access the papers you need.

Take Google Scholar (other internet search engines are available!). A lot of people tell me that they’ve searched on Google Scholar but either cannot find many papers that are relevant to their needs or they find the papers but cannot access them. This is not necessarily because we do not have access to the papers required, but is down to the way Google and the databases we subscribe to work.

For my school (Psychology) the key databases are PsycInfo and PsycArticles, both provided by EBSCO (you can access both of them via this link). These two databases include a lot of papers published by a number of different publishers (and by the way, everything in PsycArticles is also in PsycInfo!). But publishers also have their own sites that host content for each of their publications. So you can find journal titles hosted on the Taylor and Francis or Wiley websites, for example. However, often our access to a particular journal is not via the publisher website, but via EBSCO. And this is where the problems can arise.

Internet search engines (include Google Scholar!) are unable to search within EBSCO. Consequently, if you conduct a search and find a journal article published by, for example, Taylor and Francis, the search engine will take you to the Taylor and Francis page for that particular article. At this point, you will think you do not have access to the article because access is provided by EBSCO rather than Taylor and Francis.

There are a couple of ways to get around this. First of all, restrict your use of Google Scholar and internet search engines. It can be useful, but you are much better off using any of our dedicated databases. The databases will direct you to the content you can access, and also enables you to conduct more sophisticated searching, particularly in terms of filtering your search results. EBSCO in particular enables you to filter by methodology, age, gender, subject heading and more. The fact that it makes our subscribed content easier to find and easier to filter is a huge advantage over internet search engines, particularly when conducting research.

Second, if you do use an internet search engine and come up against an article that you cannot access, head to Library Search, paste the title of the journal in the search window (under the “Books and more” heading) and it will tell you whether we have access to the journal in question, which database includes the journal and what coverage the database provides access to.

I would never say avoid using it altogether as it can be a useful starting point. However, it is only ever a starting point. Your research should never begin and end on Google Scholar (or any internet search engine).  In short, when conducting your literature searching, focus the majority of your searching on our databases and Library Search. Use internet search engines if you must, but keep in mind that they are limited and should never be your sole source when literature searching. And if you need help searching any of our specialist databases, please do get in touch to arrange a one-to-one, either with myself (for Psychology students) or your subject librarian.

Happy searching!

Ian Clark

email: i.clark@uel.ac.uk | twitter: @PsycLib_UEL

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