How to Choose a Search Tool (Database)

If your paper/project is:

Small (5 pages and under), regardless of topic: use Academic Search Complete or OneSearch Lite

Multidisciplinary: use OneSearch - use the limiters on the left side to control your search dates, language, etc.

Specific to one department/discipline: use the Subject Guides to find the "core" search tool for your field, e.g. CINAHL for nursing

Canadian-specific: be sure to search CBCA in addition to any subject-specific search tools

PEI-specific: use Eureka for local newspaper articles, PEI PAD for locally indexed articles, pamphlets and other materials,
and our special catalogue search below, limited to PEI materials:

(Searches the Catalogue, limited to PEI collection)


Needing something other than books and articles: if you need corporate reports, government statistics, documentary videos, or any other kind of material other than the usual books and articles, ask us for help!

Always feel free to ask your librarian for suggestions!

Tools for Finding Search Tools

Why Use Just One?

  • If you don't find what you need in one search tool, try another!
  • Searching a second search tool for a different but related subject can also provide useful breadth for your topic.

Know What's in the Search Tool!

The key to finding the right search tool is knowing what's in it. Here are some questions to ask about any search tool.

What Subject Area(s) Does It Cover?

Note what subject areas are covered to ensure that you are using the correct search tool for your topic. Searching for engineering articles in PsycInfo won't get you far.

In addition, your choice of search tools will influence the kind of analysis you're likely to find. Searching for "marijuana legalization" will get very different results if you use PubMed (medicine) compared with SocINDEX (sociology).


What Date Range Does it Cover?

Most search tools only cover materials published in the last few decades; there's usually a specific starting date. If you're looking for articles or research from before that date, you'll need to use a different search tool.

In a few search tools, you also need to ask "How recent does it get?" Search tools of historical materials usually don't go up to the present. And some search tools simply exclude the most recent year or two of all journal articles.


What Types of Material Does It Cover?

Most search tools index scholarly journal articles, but many cover other types of content, either in addition to or instead of. Some common material types include:

  • magazine or newspaper articles
  • books
  • book chapters
  • dissertations
  • conference papers
  • statistical data
  • images, audio, or video

Using Multidisciplinary Search Tools

What about the "multidisciplinary" search tools that cover all topics? Here's a  run-down of the most commonly used titles.

Search Tool




  • mixed together dozens of general and subject specific search tools with research citations, many with full text
  • comprehensive for finding almost everything published on a topic
  • sometimes overwhelming results, useful to know advanced search tricks to get good results
Academic Search Complete
  • mix of academic, popular, and news articles
  • mix of full-text and citation only
  • excellent breadth
  • detailed subject headings
  • good place to start when you're not sure what database to use
  • lack of depth in any one field
  • small selection of core academic journals
  • all full-text
  • all journals go back to volume 1
  • tull-text searching available
  • lacks most recent 3-5 years of most journals
  • poor search interface for discovering articles by topic
  • irregular subject coverage: weak in some fields
Project Muse
Project Muse
  • academic journal articles published by university presses
  • strong in the arts, humanities, life sciences, and social sciences
  • weak in the physical sciences