Smarter Web Searching

Depending on your subject, web resources like Google, Google Scholar and Wikipedia can be a good place to START your research, just don't finish there. The following tips can help make your web use more efficient:

  1. The web can be especially useful for finding information from governments, associations, think tanks and NGOs, since governments often have a mandate to publish electronically and resources from organizations that don't publish scholarly journal articles may not be indexed in databases.
  2. Look at the references you get and if you are asked for payment, then use Passkey or the Library website to access full-text of scholarly resources. If you use Google Scholar, make sure to set your Scholar Preferences so that Cornell is listed as your library links and you get the Get it! Cornell links that will let you access articles off campus. 
  3. Google Scholar in particular is also good for verifying scholarly citations and for doing interdisciplinary searches.
  4. Look for portals dedicated to particular subjects, directories, and for bibliographies and other lists of resources to add to your research.
  5. Use Wikipedia and other web sites to find keywords that can be used to search for books in the Library Catalog or for articles!

Google vs. Web of Science

Google Scholar Web of Science
  • Search engine of the whole internet which narrows the internet results based on machine automated criteria. 
  • Multi-disciplinary (pro and con)
  • Google-like search interface
  • Searches some full-text: you can find information that is not necessarily in the citation or abstract of an article, for instance, a detail buried in the Methods section of a journal article.  If you're not having luck finding something extremely specific with Web of Science search, try Google Scholar
  • Not just journal articles (books, patents, dissertations, other material)
  • Not necessarily peer-reviewed

  • Criteria for inclusion as "scholarly"  in Google Scholar results is based on publishers submitting information to Google Scholar about their web sites, and is not necessarily based on the attributes of the sources themselves.

  • Inaccurate retrieval and variable content means that search results are not necessarily reproducible and therefore not reportable.  They would not be appropriate for systematic reviews.

  • Human-curated database
  • Journals are the focus of Web of Science, and they are selected for inclusion by humans based on scholarly criteria by literature review committees. Web of Science journal selection is explained.

  • Web of Science is interdisciplinary and covers all scientific areas, but it only covers what it considers to "best" journals and concentrates on English language ones.

  • Mostly peer-reviewed, scholarly literature

  • More Control over your  Research

  • Data about each article is entered into the database in a uniform structured way:  author, title, date, journal name.  This means you get accurate retrieval when searching for those things.  Results can be sorted reliably by latest date.

  • Articles in Web of Science are tagged with important information about their structure, such as "review article".

  • Accurate retrieval means that search results are reproducible and reportable (especially important for systematic reviews)


Grey literature or types of non-formally published substantive literature

What is Gray Literature?

Gray (or grey) literature is literature produced by individuals or organizations outside of commercial and/or academic publishers. This type of non-formally published substantive information (often not formally peer-reviewed; especially important in all kinds of sciences) can include information such:

The sources you select will be informed by your research question and field of study, but should likely include, at a minimum, theses and dissertations.

Why Search the Gray Literature?

Most of gray literature is considered less prestigious, reliable, and "official" than publication in a peer-reviewed journal. But they are still fully legitimate avenues of publication. Often they are used to publicize early findings, before a study is entirely complete. Or, in the case of theses, they are published as a condition of receiving an advanced degree. Government technical reports are issued either by agencies that do scientific research themselves or else by a lab that has received government funding. Increasingly, such labs may be required to publish technical reports as a condition of receiving such funding. Gray literature may be cited like any other paper although with the caveat mentioned before that it is considered less "official" and reliable than peer-reviewed scientific papers.

When doing evidence synthesiis, it's important because the intent is to synthesize all available evidence that is applicable to your research question. There is a strong bias in scientific publishing toward publishing studies that show some sort of significant effect. Meanwhile, many studies and trials that show no effect end up going unpublished. But knowing that an intervention had no effect is just as important as knowing that it did have an effect when it comes to making decisions for practice and policy-making. While not peer-reviewed, gray literature represents a valuable body of information that is critical to consider when synthesizing and evaluating all available evidence.