Your campus library pays big money to subscribe to databases for Tier 1 articles. Some are general purpose databases that include the most prominent journals across disciplines8, and some are specific to a particular discipline.9 Often they have the full-text of the articles right there for you to save or print. We won’t go over particular databases here because every campus has different offerings. If you haven’t already attended a workshop on using the resources provided by your library, you should. A one-hour workshop will save you many, many hours in the future. If there aren’t any workshops, you can always seek advice from librarians and other library staff on the best databases for your topic. Many libraries also have online research guides that point you to the best databases for the specific discipline and, perhaps, the specific course. Librarians are eager to help you succeed with your research—it’s their job and they love it!—so don’t be shy about asking.
An increasingly popular article database is Google Scholar. It looks like a regular Google search, and it aspires to include the vast majority of published scholarship. Google doesn’t share a list of which journals they include or how Google Scholar works, which limits its utility for scholars. Also, because it’s so wide-ranging, it can be harder to find the most appropriate sources. However, if you want to cast a wide net, it’s a very useful tool.
Here are three tips for using Google Scholar effectively:
- Add your field (economics, psychology, French, etc.) as one of your keywords. If you just put in “crime,” for example, Google Scholar will return all sorts of stuff from sociology, psychology, geography, and history. If your paper is on crime in French literature, your best sources may be buried under thousands of papers from other disciplines. A set of search terms like “crime French literature modern” will get you to relevant sources much faster.
- Don’t ever pay for an article. When you click on links to articles in Google Scholar, you may end up on a publisher’s site that tells you that you can download the article for $20 or $30. Don’t do it! You probably have access to virtually all the published academic literature through your library resources. Write down the key information (authors’ names, title, journal title, volume, issue number, year, page numbers) and go find the article through your library website. If you don’t have immediate full-text access, you may be able to get it through inter-library loan.
- Use the “cited by” feature. If you get one great hit on Google Scholar, you can quickly see a list of other papers that cited it. For example, the search terms “crime economics” yielded this hit for a 1988 paper that appeared in a journal called Kyklos:
Figure 4.1 - Google Scholar
1988 is nearly 30 years ago; for a social-science paper you probably want more recent sources. You can see that, according to Google, this paper was cited by 392 other sources. You can click on that “Cited by 392” to see that list. You can even search within that list of 392 if you’re trying to narrow down the topic. For example, you could search on the term “cities” to see which of those 392 articles are most likely to be about the economic impact of crime on cities.