How To Find Good Websites For Research Paper

After hours spent scrolling through Google and pulling up endless clickbait results, you’re frustrated with the internet. You have a paper to write, homework to do and things to learn. You know you won’t get away with citing Wikipedia or Buzzfeed in your research paper. Even the big news engines aren’t scholarly enough. You need reputable sources for your homework, and you need them now.

With so many resources online, it’s hard to narrow it down and find ones that are not only reliable and useful, but also free for students. We’ve saved you the time and picked out our 15 best free search engines for research.

15 scholarly search engines every student should bookmark

1. Google Scholar

Google Scholar was created as a tool to congregate scholarly literature on the web. From one place, students have the ability to hunt for peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations.

2. Google Books

Google Books allows web users to browse an index of thousands of books, from popular titles to old, to find pages that include your search terms. Once you find the book you are looking for, you can look through pages, find online reviews and learn where you can get a hard copy.

3. Microsoft Academic

Operated by the company that brings you Word, PowerPoint and Excel, Microsoft Academic is a reliable, comprehensive research tool. The search engine pulls content from over 120 million publications, including scientific papers, conferences and journals. You can search directly by topic, or you can search by an extensive list of fields of study. For example, if you’re interested in computer science, you can filter through topics such as artificial intelligence, computer security, data science, programming languages and more.

4. WorldWideScience

WorldWideScience, which refers to itself as “The Global Science Gateway,” is operated by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information—a branch of the Office of Science within the U.S. Department of Energy. The site utilizes databases from over 70 countries. When users type a query, it hits databases from all over the world and will display both English and translated results from related journals and academic resources.

5. Science.gov

Science.gov is operated and maintained by the Office of Science and Technical Information, the same department that collaborates on WorldWideScience.org. This search engine pulls from over 60 databases, over 2,200 websites and 200 million pages of journals, documents and scientific data. Search results can be filtered by author, date, topic and format (text or multimedia).

6. Wolfram Alpha

A self-described “computational knowledge engine,” Wolfram Alpha does not so much provide search results as it does search answers. Simply type in a topic or question you may be interested in, such as, “What is the function of the pancreas?” and the answer will show up without making you scroll through pages of results. This is especially handy for those in need of math help.

7. Refseek

With its minimalist design, Refseek doesn’t look like much. However, the engine pulls from over one billion web pages, encyclopedias, journals and books. It is similar to Google in its functionality, except that it focuses more on scientific and academic results—meaning more results will come from .edu or .org sites, as well as online encyclopedias. It also has an option to search documents directly—providing easy access to PDFs of academic papers.

8. Educational Resources Information Center

Populated by the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is a great tool for academic research with more than 1.3 million bibliographic records of articles and online materials. ERIC provides access to an extensive body of education-related literature including journal articles, books, research syntheses, conference papers, technical reports, policy papers and more. With more than eight million searches each month, it’s no wonder why this search engine is a great web source for education.

9. Virtual Learning Resources Center

The Virtual Learning Resources Center (VLRC) is an online index hosting thousands of scholarly websites, all of which are selected by teachers and librarians from around the globe. The site provides students and teachers with current, valid information for school and university academic projects using an index gathered from research portals, universities and library internet subject guides recommended by teachers and librarians.

10. iSeek

iSeek is a great search engine for students, teachers and administrators alike. Simply ask a question or enter search topics or tools, and iSeek will pull from scholastic sources to find exactly what you are looking for. The search engine is safe, intelligent and timesaving—and it draws from trusted resources from universities, government and established non-commercial sites.

11. ResearchGate

ResearchGate is a unique social networking site for scientists and researchers. Over 11 million researchers submit their work, which totals more than 100 million publications, on the site for anyone to access. You can search by publication, data and author, or you can even ask the researchers questions. Though it’s not a search engine that pulls from external sources, ResearchGate’s own collection of publications provides a hearty selection for any inquisitive scholar.

12. BASE

The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) prides itself as being “one of the world’s most voluminous search engines especially for academic web resources.” Utilizing 4,000 sources, the site contains results from over 100 million documents. The advanced search option allows users to narrow their research—so whether you’re looking for a book, review, lecture, video or thesis, BASE can provide the specific format you need.

13. Infotopia

Infotopia describes itself as a “Google-alternative safe search engine.” The academic search engine pulls from results that have been curated by librarians, teachers and other educational workers. A unique search feature allows users to select a category, which ranges from art to health to science and technology, and then see a list of internal and external resources pertaining to the topic. So if you don’t find what you’re looking for within the pages of Infotopia, you will probably find it in one of its many suggested sites.

14. PubMed Central

This site is perfect for those studying anything related to healthcare or science. PubMed Central is operated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The database contains more than 3 million full-text journal articles. It’s similar to PubMed Health, which is specifically for health-related research and studies, and includes citations and abstracts to more than 26 million articles.

15. Lexis Web

Researching legal topics? Lexis Web is your go-to for any law-related inquiries you may have. The results are drawn from legal sites, which can be filtered by criteria such as news, blog, government and commercial. Users can also filter results by jurisdiction, practice area, source and file format.

Start searching

Pulling up an Internet search might be second nature to you by now. But a little forethought into where you begin your hunt can make your life much easier. Save yourself the time wading through basic Google search results and utilize some of these tools to ensure your results will be up to par with academic standards.

Do you know of any useful educational search engines that aren’t on this list? Let us know in the comments below!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2009. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.

 

Introduction

Reading scientific literature is a critical part of conceiving of and executing a successful advanced science project. The How to Read a Scientific Paper guide can help you get the most out of each paper you read—first, of course, you have to actually get your hands on the paper! That's where this guide comes in. Below you'll find tips and resources for both searching for and acquiring free copies of scientific papers to read.

Academic Search Engines: Resources for Finding Science Paper Citations

When you start your background research, one of the early steps is finding and reading the scientific literature related to your science project (see the Roadmap: How to Get Started On an Advanced Science Project article for more details on project steps). Mentors are a great resource for recommendations about which scientific papers are critical for you to read and you should definitely ask your mentor, or another expert in the field, for advice. But there'll also be times when your mentor is busy or isn't up-to-date on a particular experimental method, in which case, you'll need to be proactive and hunt for papers on your own. It turns out that just plugging search terms into a regular search engine, like Google, Yahoo, or MSN, isn't very effective. The pages you get back will be a wide mixture of websites, and very few will be links to peer-reviewed scientific papers. To find scientific literature, the best thing to use is an academic search engine.

There are many different academic search engines. Some focus on a single discipline, while others have citations from multiple fields. There are a handful of free, publicly available academic search engines that can be accessed online; some of these are listed in Table 1, below. The remainder, like the ISI Web of Science, are subscription-based. Universities and colleges often subscribe to academic search engines. If you can't find what you need using a free search engine, you may be able to access these resources from computers in a university or college library. Consult the school's library webpage, or call the library directly, to find out to which academic search engines they subscribe to and whether or not you'd be allowed into the library to access them.

Table 1: This table provides a list of free, online academic search engines for various science disciplines.



Here are a few tips to help you get started with the academic search engines:

  • Each search engine works slightly differently, so it's worth taking the time to read any available help pages to figure out the best way to use each one.
  • When you're beginning your literature search, try several different key words, both alone and in combination. Then, as you view the results, you can narrow your focus and figure out which key words best describe the kinds of papers in which you are interested.
  • As you read the literature, go back and try additional searches using the jargon and terms you learn while reading.

Note: The results of academic search engines come in the form of an abstract, which you can read to determine if the paper is relevant to your science project, as well as a full citation (author, journal title, volume, page numbers, year, etc.) so that you can find a physical copy of the paper. Search engines do not necessarily contain the full text of the paper for you to read. A few, like PubMed, do provide links to free online versions of the paper, when one is available. Read on for help finding the full paper.

How to Get a Copy of a Scientific Paper

Once you've found the citation for a paper that is relevant to your advanced science project, the next step is actually getting a copy so that you can read it. As mentioned above, some search engines provide links to free online versions of the paper, if one exists. If the search engine doesn't, or if you got the citation somewhere else, like the bibliography of another science paper you were reading, there are several ways to find copies.

Searching for Newer Papers (published during Internet era)

  • Check the library of a local college or university. Academic institutions, like colleges and universities, often subscribe to many scientific journals. Some of these libraries are free to the public. Contact the library, or look at their website, to see if you may use their resources and if they subscribe to the journals in which you're interested. Often, the library's catalog of holdings is online and publicly searchable.
    1. Note: If you do go to a university or college library to photocopy or print journal articles, make sure to bring plenty of change with you, because they won't have any!
  • Look for a free online version. Try searching for the full title of the paper in a regular search engine like Google, Yahoo, or MSN. The paper may come up multiple times, and one of those might be a free, downloadable copy. So, if the first link isn't downloadable, try another.
  • Go directly to the online homepage of the journal in which the paper was published. Some scientific journals are "open-source," meaning that their content is always free online to the public. Others are free online (often after registering with the website) if the paper was published more than a year ago. The Directory of Open Access Journals is also a good place to check to see which journals are free in your field of interest. The website lists journals by subject, as well as by title.
  • Search directly for the homepage of the first or last author of the paper and see if he or she has a PDF of the paper on his or her website. If so, you can download it directly from there. Generally it is only worth looking up the first author (the one who contributed the most to the paper) or the last author (usually the professor in whose lab the work was done and who supervised the science project).
  • Look for the paper (using the title or authors) in a science database, like those listed below, in Table 2. These databases contain free, full-text versions of scientific papers, as well as other relevant information, like publicly accessible data sets.


Table 2: List of databases containing free, full-text scientific papers and data sets.



  • Purchase a copy. Depending on the science magazine publisher, you may also come across offers for purchasing a copy of the paper. This is an expensive option, particularly if you have multiple papers you'd like to read; try some of the other searching methods first

Searching for Older Papers (published pre-Internet era)

Even with all of the above searching methods, you may not be able to find a free copy of the paper online. This is particularly true for older science papers, which were published before online content became routine. In these cases, there are additional ways to get the paper at no or minimal cost.

  • Contact the author via email. As mentioned above, the first and last authors are your best bets. Briefly explain your situation and request a copy of the paper directly from him or her. If you do this, make sure to be polite and brief in your email.
  • Check the library of a local college or university. Academic institutions, like colleges and universities, often subscribe to many scientific journals. Some of these libraries are free to the public. Contact the library, or look at their website, to see if you may use their resources and if they subscribe to the journals in which you're interested. Often, the library's catalog of holdings is online and publicly searchable.
    1. Note: If you do go to a university or college library to photocopy or print journal articles, make sure to bring plenty of change with you, because they won't have any!
  • Contact your mentor and ask if he or she can help you acquire a copy of the paper. Use this as a last resort though, because you may find that your request falls pretty far down on a mentor's lengthy to-do list.

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