Academic databases like Lexis Nexis or Web of Science and big search engines like Google both have their place in an academic research process. Most academic researchers will do multiple searches, using both specialized and general tools.

Academic databases:

  • Are frequently proprietary - meaning that someone (like your library, or your employer) has to pay a subscription fee for you to get access. 
  • Focus on the needs of a specific user community: undergraduate students, researchers in a specific discipline, etc.
  • Organize information in ways that are useful to their primary user community.

Use databases when

  • You want to scan the published literature in a specific field.
  • You want to focus on a particular source type, like peer-reviewed articles or newspaper articles.
  • You want to find proprietary information, which won't be available on the open Web.
  • You want to narrow or focus your search using features that are only useful in specific contexts (for example, if you want to limit to articles about a specific industry, or to studies of a specific student population).

Search engines:

  • Are usually free for anyone with an Internet connection to use.
  • Rely on computer programs and algorithms to collect and organize information.
  • Try to be as comprehensive as possible in what they search.

Use search engines when

  • You want to scan as much information as possible.
  • You want to find out more about a source or author.
  • You're not sure if the information you want exists.
  • You do not need to narrow or focus your search very much.