Below is a collection of some excellent academic search engines that can help you search for and find academic books and journal articles. Unlike mainstream search engines such as Google and Bing, these tools are academically focused providing you with results that are most likely to be relevant to your search queries.
These academic search engines were an important part of my digital toolkit as a PhD student. Almost all of these tools provide extra features beside online search including, for instance, the ability to create personal libraries where you can save and organize your books, automated citations generation, social networking with other researchers, collaboration, and many more.
While some of the books and other academic materials you will find through these search engines are free others are not. If you are affiliated with an academic institution or organization you can use their login credentials for free access, otherwise, you will have pay to access paywalled materials.
1. Google Scholar
Google Scholar is Google’s search engine for academic and scholarly literature. It allows you to search an extensive cross-disciplinary database of scholarly sources including books, academic articles, theses/dissertations, abstracts, court papers, and many more. Google Scholar search results are retrieved from different sources such as peer-reviewed journals, online repositories, websites, academic publishers, professional societies, and more.
If you are an author, you can create your own author profile and add your academic work. Google Scholar allows you to check those that cite your publications and sends you email alerts each time your work is cited online.
To make the best of Google Scholar search, you need to use its integrated search filters. For instance, you can search for academic works by date, author, and/or title. You can also use the ‘Related articles’ feature to find articles similar to the given search result. Note that abstracts are generally available for free, however, to access the full article might sometimes require a subscription in which case you might want to use the library link on the right of the search result to access it via your institution’s library, or you can click on ‘All versions’ under the search results to access alternative sources.
One of my favourite things about Google Scholar is reference mining. When you land on a search result click on the ‘Cited by’ to find more similar articles. You can repeat the same process till you exhaust seminal works, for instance, in your topical area.
Google Scholar allows you to easily add full citation of a search result to your bibliography manager. Simply click on the Cite button under the search result and select your bibliography manager. Google Scholar supports RefWorks, RefMan, Endnote, and BibTex.
Google Scholar also enables you to create your own Library where you can save and organize articles. ‘Only you can see the articles in your library. If you create a Scholar profile and make it public, then the articles in your public profile (and only those articles) will be visible to everyone.’
WorldCat is one of the largest online library catalogs that connect thousands of libraries collections into a single platform allowing you to search various libraries from a single search box. You can use WorldCat to search for a wide variety of resources including research theses, books, magazines, songs, maps, genealogical records, movies, and more. WorldCat also features open source e-books, articles, and downloadable audiobooks and photos.
WorldCat enables you to access ‘article citations with links to full text, authoritative research materials, one-of-a-kind documents and photos of local or historic significance, and digital versions of rare items that aren’t generally available to the public.’
The Way WorldCat works is simple: type in your search query the site’s search box and browse through the list of libraries that provide access to the material you search for. ‘you can either directly access online content that’s openly available or click on a link for a library near you. You’ll be able to check out or reserve materials (if you’re a member) or find contact information to get more details.’
Education Resources and Information Center (ERIC) is an online database of a wide range of academic materials and grey literature from both journal and non-journal sources including research reports, journal articles, dissertations/theses, books, opinion papers, speeches, meeting papers, collected works, reference materials, guides, surveys, and many more. ERIC is sponsored by the United States Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Access to ERIC is free and does not require any membership or subscription.
ERIC provides a host of interesting features to help you find relevant research materials. For instance, you can search for academic work published within a specific time frame, or you can use descriptors to further narrow down your topic and target a specific area. You can also filter your search by source, author, publication type, education level, audience, location, among other filters. You can also choose whether you want to search for only peer-reviewed articles or for full-text that is available on ERIC.
It is worth noting that some materials are available in full-text and others are accessible through a direct link to the publisher website in the ERIC record. ERIC’s users range from academics and researchers to policymakers and the general public.
ERIC provides all the data you need to build your reference list or formatted bibliography. You can either build your references manually or use ERIC’s export functionality that works with several citation management tools to help you automatically generate citations.
ResearchGate is a research networking site where authors deposit their papers, connect with other researchers, search for and discover research content, and engage in collaborative research projects. ResearchGate’ s networking capabilities help researchers to build research communities and stay up to date about recent publications in their field of study. As a registered member of ResearchGate you get to highlight and add comments on others research, review their work, and engage in academic conversations with others.
You can also add research to your public profile to make it discoverable and get feedback from other researchers. You can even share your preprints to get feedback from others before you publish it. ResearchGate provides you with analytic reports detailing the performance of your papers in terms of the number of people viewed it, number of citations, level of interaction, and many more.
ResearchGate is also a discussion platform where you can ask research-related questions and get responses from other researchers. If you have no questions you can still take part in the ongoing conversation by contributing answers to questions posed by other participants.
Recommendations is another great collaborative feature in ResearchGate. You can mark any specific research paper as a recommendation to your peers and network. Recommendations are public and those in your research network will be be notified of your recommendations. Also, any researcher will be able to view recommendations when they view the research page. Recommending research papers is a great way to share valuable research with your peers, start discussions around specific research papers, and keep track of an ongoing research project.
While some of the resources on ResearchGate are available for free download in full-text format, others are not and you can only access their abstract. To get access to these materials, you may want to send direct messages to their authors using the site’s messaging service. I have myself obtained full-text papers from authors through direct email.
5. Google Books
Google Books allows you to search one of the most comprehensive index of full-text books in the world. You can use Google Books to ‘read, download, or preview books on Google Books. If you find a book you want to read, you might be able to read it on Google Books, buy it online, or borrow it from a library.’
Books you find in Google Books are displayed either in full view in which case the book is either in the public domain (out of copyright) or the publisher has given Google Books permission to display the book in full view. In other cases where permission is not granted to display the full text, users can still search the book and see snippets of the text within specific pages.
In extreme cases, no full view or snippet view is available and you will only be able to access basic bibliographic information about the book but you can use the library or retailer links on the left hand side to buy a copy of the book.
I love the search functionality in Google Books and it literary saved my butt several times. I have been using it extensively to verify my citations and make sure these citations are accurately worded. You can simply copy a portion of text and paste in the search box of the book you are interested in and Google Books displays all pages with the copied excerpts. However, this search feature does not work with books that have limited or no preview.
As is the case with Google Scholar, Google Books enables you to create your own library where you can collect and organize books and magazines. The way it works is simple: Click on My Library from within Google Books, select a bookshelf such as ‘Favourites’ or ‘Reading now’.
Click on Settings and Add by ISBN or ISSN, type in the ISBN or ISSN of the magazine or book you want to add and click Add books. Alternatively, you can add books you are already browsing by simply hovering over Add to my Library located at the top of the screen and selecting a bookshelf.
ScienceDirect is a platform by Elsevier that offers access to a huge collection of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters including open access materials. You can search for academic literature by keywords, author name, journal/book title, volume, issue, or page. Or, you can use advanced search to search for specific documents or parts of a document.
ScienceDirect allows you to download in PDF format one or several books, book chapters, journal issues, or journal articles provided you meet one of the following conditions: you are logged to ScienceDirect through the account of your institution, you have purchased the document yourself, or the document you are looking for is open access and therefore is freely accessible.
Academia is another wildly popular research platform where you can search for and download tons of academic and scholarly work for free. To be able to download an academic paper you need to have an account on Academia, but you don’t need an account if you only want to read the paper on the site.
As is the case in ResearchGate, some authors in Academia do not share their full texts. They only feature abstracts, excerpts or paper previews in which case you need to directly contact the author and ask for the full text.
Academia also offers a ‘My Library’ feature that you can use to save papers you are interested in. You can not add your own papers to My Library, only papers authored by others. Another excellent feature provided by Academia is PDF Packs or bulk download (premium feature) which allows you to download groups of papers related to the paper you are viewing.
‘Say you find an incredible paper that is the foundational paper of your research topic and you know you want everything related to it. Instead of just selecting “download” or clicking on all the papers in the related papers sidebar, simply click “Download Full PDF Package” next to [the] regular download button!’
Academia offers a premium subscription with tons of interesting features including: mentions (learn who cites you), readers (learn about those who interact with your work), enhanced analytics (learn when and where your Academia profile is discovered and viewed), advanced search, personal website, grants (search grants and fellowship[ opportunities), PDF Packs, search alerts (receive automatic reports of saved search queries), summaries (receive summarized versions of papers)
RefSeek is an academically focused search engine. It is like Google Scholar but with way less features. When you run an academic search query on RefSeek, the site searches billions of documents such as web pages, books, encyclopedia, journals, newspapers and many more. You have way more chances to find relevant academic sources without the ‘information overload of a general search engine’.
RefSeek also offers a directory with aggregated resources covering various subject areas including: science, atlases, coding, dictionaries, literature, mathematics, writing, visual arts, translation, games, encyclopedias, calculators, almanacs, teacher resources and many more. RefSeek is completely free and does not require any sign-up or registration.
BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) is another good academic search engine operated by Bielefeld University Library. It offers access to over 240 million documents from over 8000 content providers. Over half of the the indexed materials in BASE is open access and is freely accessible. BASE allows you to run targeted searches and get academically relevant results .
When you conduct academic searches on BASE, you will get results with precise bibliographic data together with information about access and terms of re-use for a document. BASE also provides you with handy features to help you effectively search their extensive database. For instance, you can refine your search by author, subject, Dewey Decimal Classification, year of publication, content provider, language, document type, and many more.
‘In BASE two different search surfaces are available: a basic search providing a single search field (search in all parts of a document by default) and an advanced search with multiple search fields and more sophisticated search options. In the basic search you get search suggestions after typing at least 3 letters. By selecting a search suggestion you can apply it to the search field.’
10. Internet Archive
Internet Archive is a non-profit library where you can search for and access millions of educational resources such as free books, movies, music, websites, audio recordings, videos, images, television programs, and many more. In 2005, Internet Archive started a program to digitize books and since then the site scanned millions of books with a current rate of 4000 scanned books every day.
All books published before 1927 are available for free download. Modern books can be downloaded through Internet Archive’s second site, Open Library. Another interesting service provided by Internet Archive is the Wayback Machine, a service that archives web history. Wayback Machine has over 25 years of web history that is accessible to the general public.
11. Open Library
Open Library is a global catalog for book metadata. It is an open collaborative project by Internet Archive that anyone can contribute to. The goal of the Open Library is to ‘create a web page for every book ever published.’ Open Library offers information about books and provides links to help users search for, discover, borrow, and read these materials from the book collections in Internet Archive. Open Library also links to WorldCat allowing users to easily find books that they can borrow from nearby libraries.
While Open Library is free, some of its features are reserved for those with registered accounts. Members of Open Library can borrow books from the Internet Archive collections, add or edit data about books and authors, create reading lists, add book notes, create public profile, access personal analytics about their reading, import/export data about their reading with other book services, and many more.