Where do you search?

by Eszter Hargittai on October 3, 2003

This post is about academic literature searches in particular. (I could write a whole dissertation about Web search in general.. wait.. I did.:)

In an attempt to consolidate advice for students about academic literature searches, a grad school peer of mine posted a helpful page of resources for tracking down literature of interest on various sociological topics. This made me wonder: what are people’s favorite resources for academic literature searches? It also relates to the discussion about bundling e-journals started by Chris the other day.

My first steps usually involve going to Web of Science (home of the Social Science Citation Index), Proquest and the Annual Reviews series. [Please note that doing searches on most of these is limited to subscribers.]

The great appeal of the Social Science Citation Index (and its science and humanities equivalents) is that it gives you a list of articles cited by the author(s) of the piece and also tells you who has cited the piece itself since its publication. This lets you plug into an entire discussion about the topic at hand.

I have noticed that Sociofile always makes it on such lists among sociologists even though I would never recommend that as an important resource because other databases seem to do a better job. I am thinking its continued popularity is due to inertia. It used to be one of few electronic resources sociologists used and so they keep referring to it. But nowadays, there are so many much more useful and comprehensive resources.

For one thing, I would stay away from very field-specific databases because so much relevant work – probably on just about any topic – is published in journals of other fields. So in the interest of cross-disciplinary fertilization, I would not want to exclude other sources.

Next is the whole question of getting access to full-text articles. That step sometimes involves going to other databases. When a library is really on top of things, it will have linked the various searches so you are told whether your results can be found in their collection.

This relates to the bundling e-journals discussion in that it is interesting to see which databases bundle which journals in their indexes. It would be wonderful to see a comparison chart of which databases index which journals. That way we could eliminate those that get covered by others (and libraries could even stop subscribing to them).

I’m curious to know what other resources people like regardless of the field.

Also, it’s probably worth noting that in addition to such database searches, it’s still worth running some searches on public Web search engines such as Google. Conference presentations, working papers, policy reports and other sources are often only available via such searching.



Shai 10.03.03 at 6:54 pm

I use web of science, more specific indexes (see here) annual reviews, encyclopedias, general reference works (for background and references).

I troll my favorite journals once every couple of weeks, but the uni also has a program that will auto email citation or key word searches from web of science when it’s updated every week (good if you have a long term interest in some paper or topic).

For computer science, I use citeseer, arxiv, the acm digital library etc. then I have Rosen, Handbook of Discrete and Combinatorial Mathematics, Rudin, Knuth, etc. and various algorithms books.

More generally I’ll check out Nature and Science, and read books reviewed, or listed in books received.

google I’ll often use for a quick fix, a bibliography, to find working papers, etc.

And of course I’ll physically search around the stacks. If I know the library of congress call number for one book there’s sometimes something similar in the vicinity. Randomly picking a book off the shelf doesn’t work very well, but I do sometimes check out what people have left behind after they were finished reading.

I’m only a student but I imagine it can’t be much different for anyone else.


John 10.03.03 at 7:57 pm

Well, for reviews and articles JSTOR is good


brayden 10.03.03 at 10:35 pm

For historical articles (they can be social science history) I use America: History & Life. It’s nice because it not only searches national journals but also smaller, local journals (like Nevada Historical Society Quarterly).


claxton6 10.04.03 at 2:04 am

The University of Maryland has a nice system where, for all the search engines they subscribe to, you can enter the name of a journal you’re interested in, and see which of them search it and whether they offer full text. I’d kill for that right now, as I’m having a tough time finding a good place to search for urban planning and development literature. So far, the best appears to be WebOfScience.

On the other hand, the University of Michigan offers SFX (I don’t know how widely used this is), which, once you’ve found an article of interest, will tell you where to go in other databases to get the full text of that article.


eszter 10.04.03 at 4:43 pm

SFX was what I was referring to when I noted that some libraries tell you where you can get the full text of journals. Thanks, I couldn’t remember the name. (Princeton offers that as well.) It’s clear after some searches that there is a lot of redundancy in what e-journal bundles offer.


rowan 10.04.03 at 6:01 pm

Thanks for having this conversation and for putting the resource links in. It is a great resource for students (I am passing it along to my students), and it’s great to see what tools people are using.

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