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Ten search engines for researchers

that go beyond Google

Using search engines effectively is now a key skill for researchers, but could more be done to equip young researchers with the tools they need. Here, Dr Neil Jacobs and Rachel Bruce from Jisc’s digital infrastructure team share their top ten resources for researchers from across the web.

The power of Google - ready for a surprise?


Google can do maths too. See what happens when you try.

Paul Stokes, Jisc’s programme manager for technical directions says: “Not many people know about Google picture search. Drag and drop a picture onto the images search to find similar images.”

If you want to find out more about how to use Google effectively, Paul recommends power searching with Google.

Every click of the mouse, every search box, needs to work hard to make the best use of a researcher’s time. For each gem of a resource that a researcher discovers, there may be a dozen abandoned web pages, armies of half-read abstracts and false leads. Knowing how, and where, to search for resources is vital for saving time and getting quickly to the results that matter. 

One of the best ways to increase your hit-rate is by going beyond Google to a specific academic search engine or database. Here, we outline the top search engines and resources that work hard for researchers to help them get the figures, answers and arguments they need. 

Scientific queries


What is it? A so-called ‘answer engine’, the service answers queries directly based on the search terms rather than providing a list of results.

Key features: Search for information about domain names and compare websites. It also has various maths and statistics functions.

Neil says: “WolframAlpha is probably the most innovative of the answer engines. It attempts to answer free-text questions or provide information about things rather than supply a list of web sites tagged as connected with a subject.”

Open access search engines


What is it? An experimental service, allowing keyword and semantic search of over 10 million open access articles.

Key feature: If you find an article you like, CORE will find similar ones by analysing the text of that article.


What is it? BASE is one of the world's most voluminous search engines especially for academic open access web resources from over 2,000 sources.

Key features: Allows you to search intellectually selected resources and their bibliographic data, including those from the so-called ‘deep web’, which are ignored by commercial search engines. There are several options for sorting the results list and you can browse by Dewey Decimal Classification and document type.

Neil explains: “BASE is bigger than CORE, but the discovery tools are not as advanced.”

Library catalogues


What is it? A Jisc service allowing you to look through the catalogues of over 70 major UK and Irish libraries.

Key features: Good for locating books and other material held in research collections in the UK;  especially useful for humanities.

Rachel explains: “It gets over 13 million searches a year from higher and further education, so it is a very well used service.”

infoDelving for data?

Searching for research data is not yet easy. Dr Neil Jacobs says: “Researchers probably start with the disciplinary repositories with which they’re familiar, although there are some catalogues of different collections of data.”
These catalogues include:

In Australia there is a registry in Research Data Australia

For environmental data, there is the NERC Data Catalogue Service

Public data is searchable in the European Union Open Data Portal

Particular software platforms also have their own searches, eg Dryad, which is specifically for data, and FigShare, which contains some data, but also researchers’ other items such as PowerPoint slides and images.

Web Scale Discovery services

What is it? Many university libraries have one of these services working behind the scenes, they index a vast range of academic resources and provide sophisticated search tools.

Key features: The search includes journal articles, e-books, reviews, legal documents and more that are harvested from primary and secondary publishers, aggregators and open-access repositories.

Rachel comments: “Many researchers might not even know their library has this tool – it just looks like the library catalogue to them – but is much more than that.”


What is it? One of the world’s most comprehensive research databases, this Jisc service gives you access to over 28,000 journals and more than 52 million article citations and conference papers through the British Library’s electronic table of contents.

Key features: Researchers can get email alerts of the table of contents in journals, keeping them up to date with the latest literature in their field. 

Neil says: “This is a very popular feature and is an easy way to search back to previous articles to support your research.”


What is it? This is a meta-catalogue of cultural heritage collections from a range of Europe's leading galleries, libraries, archives and museums. The catalogue includes books and manuscripts, photos and paintings, television and film, sculpture and crafts, diaries and maps, sheet music and recordings.

Features: You can download your resource, print it, use it, save it, share it and play with it.

Neil tells us: “This is hugely important for the humanities and some social sciences.”

Social web


What is it? Harness the power of social discovery and particularly the #icanhazpdf hashtag for locating PDFs that you do not have access to through your institution.

Features: Tweet an article you need using this hashtag and someone will point you to a copy that you can access.

Reference management and discovery services

Mendeley and Zotero

What are they? They are both ways to share reference lists, citations, and even full papers in the case of Mendeley.

Key feature: Save, organise and store your references so that you can remain organised ready for the final write-up.

Rachel says: “You can read a review comparing them on the University of Cambridge website.”


Do you know these more well-known search engines and databases?

Google Scholar

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines.

Microsoft Academic Search

Microsoft Academic Search

Microsoft Academic Search is a free academic search engine developed by Microsoft Research. It covers more than 48 million publications and over 20 million authors across a variety of domains with updates added each week. 



Scopus is a bibliographic database containing abstracts and citations for academic journal articles. It is owned by Elsevier and is available online by subscription.



PubMed Central is a free digital database of full-text scientific literature in biomedical and life sciences.



MEDLINE (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online, or MEDLARS Online) is a freely available bibliographic database of life sciences and biomedical information.


More info…

Read the digital infrastructure team’s blog




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