13 Searching Academic Databases – Web of Science

Searching Academic Databases

Academic databases have the most features, making it easier to find relevant articles. There are two major interdiciplinary databases (Web of Science and Scopus) and many subject specific databases (Inspec for physics and engineering or GeoRef for geosciences). Almost all of these databases require a log in, as the library subscribes to them, thought some are Open Access.

Academic databases are the most comprehensive databases and many contain material going back over a hundred years. However, no one database has every article and some databases have better subject area coverage than others, so you should always search more than one database.

See Chapter 15 for Recommended Databases by Discipline

Searching in Web of Science

We will demo Web of Science as it is a large, interdisciplinary database with good coverage of sciences and medicine.  Web of Science is actually a collection of databases, and it is best to search the full collection at once, using “All Databases.” We can easily apply the search strategy developed in Chapter 9 to Web of Science:


Screenshot of web of science search
Each line represents a concept (the OR terms) and the lines are connected with AND


  • Search “All Databases” as it searches every database in Web of Science. It includes the Web of Science Core Collection plus medical and biological databases
  • Search by “Topic.” Topic searches the title abstract and keywords of each article
  • Click “add row” to add another row for each concept you are searching
    • The rows are automatically connected with AND terms
  • Click the “Search Tips” for a comprehensive list of search help
  • Sort search results by relevance (default is sort by newest first)

More Web of Science Tips

Search History

Check your search history to keep track of the searches you do during a session.

To view your search history, click on Search History in the top right tool bar:

Search History Button


Web of Science search history showing three previous searches
Search history showing three previous searches and the number of results for each. Click that number to view the search results.
Saved searches/ search alerts

You can save you searches to rerun later or you can set up a search alert. A search alert will send you an email when a new article that matches your search gets added to Web of Science. Always save your searches and once you have your best search, make a search alert. This will save you time and you won’t need to repeat work to find new articles.

First make a Web of Science account:

Web of Science Sign in
Look for the Sign In button in the top right tool bar

Next, go to your search history and click “Save History/Create Alert”

Search alert pop up window
To create and alert check “Send me email alerts” To save your search with no alert, uncheck “Send me email alerts”

To find your saved searches and search alerts, go to “Searches and alerts” in the top right tool bar. From there you can update alerts or rerun searches

Toolbar link to searches and alerts

Citation information

Web of Science (and Scopus) record the citations received by each resource. This means you can see who cited the articles in your search. Clicking the “times cited” for an article takes you to a list of every article that cited your article. This can help you find related articles and shows you newer articles you have have missed.


Search results with times cited highlighted
In your list of search results, each article includes the Times Cited


Times cited for an article is highlighted
When looking at an article, the Citation Network sidebar includes the Times Cited



Once you have a good search strategy, set up a search alert in either Web of Science or Scopus so that you know when new relevant papers get published.

Make sure to use the search history, saved searches or search alerts to keep track of your searches

Note: not all academic databases have search history, saved searches or search alerts.




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Advanced Library Skills for Physics Research Copyright © 2020 by Lauren Stieglitz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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