Evaluate databases & search engines

Why is it important to evaluate databases & search engines?

There are two main reasons:

You can waste a lot of time and effort, and retrieve poor results, if you use the wrong tool, or use the right tool ineffectively!

Criteria for evaluating databases & search engines

Look at the "Help" or "Search tips" pages offered by the particular database or search engine to answer the following questions. Other sources of information are the description of resources on our Databases page, knowledgeable colleagues or your Subject Librarian.  Another page covers how to use search engines, including Google, effectively and the limitations of Google.

1) Scope

  • What years does it cover?
  • What types of publications are included?
  • How up to date is it?
  • Does the subject coverage match my topic?
  • Is it suitable for a comprehensive search of the literature? or does it only cover a proportion of the literature?

2) Quality

  • Is it a database of peer reviewed academic journal articles?
  • Or a search engine that will find material of any quality or level?
  • Will a particular article give one hit (typical for a database), or multiple hits (more likely for search engines)?

3) Search facilities

  • Are the search facilities suitable for my topic?
  • Does it allow citation searching?
  • Controlled vocabulary searching?
  • If I am looking for chemical compounds can I search by molecular formula or structure?

4) Ease of use

  • Is it easy to access?
  • Is it easy to refine searches by date, document type, etc
  • Does it just provide journal references?  Or does it link to full text where possible (perhaps using our Get it! linking service)?
  • Can I import search results from it into my bibliographic management software, eg EndNote

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Familiarising yourself with a database or search engine

Applying the above criteria will help you to decide whether a database or search engine is suitable for the search you need to make, and identify the best way to use it.   However, you should also examine your search results carefully and see if they are what you were hoping for.  If you are not happy with the results, don’t give up!  A successful search will often take several tries. You can usually refine your searches by adding new terms which spring to mind once you have seen your initial results; or you may choose to limit your results if you feel you have retrieved too many.

Always remember to look at the "Help" or "Search tips" pages offered by the particular database or search engine you are currently using.

If you continue to find poor results, you should consider using a different database or search engine. 

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Online tutorial

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