Good research involves lots of work. You want accurate, authoritative, and comprehensive information for your research. Searching just one database or using one search engine will not allow you to find all the relevant information you need.
There is no one database that indexes every published article even in its own field.
Think of search engines and databases as tools rather than guides or web pages. You use them to accomplish something; you use them to find needed information. But like any tool, they have their limitations.
Google Scholar is a search engine not a database and many times cannot provide you with full-text (complete text articles) articles you need. Biological Abstracts focuses in on about 4,000 biology journals- but the number of published journals that deal with life sciences and might have relevance to your research is many thousands more than that. You cannot use one tool for all your needs.
Use this portion of this guide to help begin navigating the "data smog" that hovers over all information sources today.
The pamphlet titled Database Searching Basics (PDF) has information about how databases find things and tips on how to do more efficient searching.
How do you find the article you need? What tools are available to you for research? Read through the following to begin to learn how to find what you need.
Every tool has its limitations and every tool cannot do all jobs. For some jobs you need a saw; for others, a screwdriver. This same principle applies to research. Using just one source or database for all your research will result in holes in your knowledge and a poor reference list. Most databases only index a finite number of published journals. To get a significant and accurate picture of what’s been published, you will need to search at least several different databases/indexes.
For instance, Google Scholar is a very popular research tool. However, it is a search engine NOT a database that searches the World Wide Web (primarily publishers's websites) for scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles and publications rather than an indexed set of data on published articles and other print materials. The preferences can be set to focus on specific libraries or institutional resources such as Ball State, Harvard, or the Mayo Clinic. However, like all tools, Google Scholar has its limitations.
1) Go to Google Scholar and type in “spider silk.” Look at the first return on the list. It should be an article published in Nature by one F. Vollrath. Can you obtain the full-text version of the article via that link? Go down the list until you find one from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Can you obtain the full-text of that one?
Notice that both links took you to the publisher’s website. Publishers are in business to make a profit and need to sell their product. You must subscribe to the journal in question or buy individual articles. As an affiliate (ie student, faculty, staff) of a university, you might have access to an institutional subscription to these journals.
If you ignore the article by F. Vollrath just because you cannot obtain a full-text version through Google Scholar, you will be producing poor research because Fritz Vollrath is the leading researcher in spider silk and you had best know his research if you are going to study the same topic.
2) This time, go to OneSearch- this discovery tool accesses the University Libraries online index of all the items (i.e. books, journals, articles, music, models, etc.) we own or subscribe to. In other words, the stuff that you pay for, in part, with your tuition. You can also find items outside of the Ball State system if you want.
The basic search field will appear. Type in "spider silk." All kinds of items from books to new paper articles to journal articles and conference proceedings will appear.
OneSearch is a discovery tool which means it starts out broadly and then you use the "facets" along the side to filter your results. With one click, you can limit to "scholarly and peer-reviewed" items. Then you can further limit to "articles" and then by publication date and even further by discipline and subject terms. Things you cannot do with Google Scholar. The big advantage here is that the articles you see in OneSearch should be accessible to you through the University Libraries.
We can find the Vollrath article very easily but limiting to "journal article" and then to the publication year 2001. Even easier is adding "AND Vollrath" to the search terms in the search box.
You can also use the DOI (digital object identifier) to locate an article by using OneSearch's advance search or using the Citation Linker which can be found in the navigation bar at the top of OneSearch.