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
- book chapters
- conference papers
- statistical data
- images, audio, or video