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Guide to Science Information Resources

Indexes and Databases Defined

Example of a Print Index


Before science publications became more readily available online, researchers located articles through a printed index.  An index, within a library setting, is a list of articles or other publications within a discipline or topic.  It provides bibliographic information such as author(s), title, where it was published (see image, "Example of a Print Index"), and sometimes abstracts.  This information assisted a researcher with locating publications and deciding if they were relevant to his or her topic, but the index itself did not provide its full content (commonly known as full text).  Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) were and continue to be frequently used indexes in the sciences.

Conversion from Print to Online

Indexes, which were traditionally available in print formats, increasingly became available online.  They also began providing access to full articles and publications.  These became widely known as databases within the library field and are now used to find information such as articles, dissertations, and other sources distributed by scholarly and commercial publishers.

Using Indexes and Databases

To effectively search for information, get familiar with the indexes and databases that focus on your subject area.  See the indexes and databases page to identify those available through the FAU Libraries (non-FAU affiliates should consult with their institutional or community library/ information centers to see what they offer).  Take note of an index and database's features such as its search interface, controlled vocabulary, and other extras.

Although indexes and databases can help a researcher identify what has been published in his or her discipline, access to full text may not be readily available.  Be familiar with your institution's document delivery or interlibrary loan service that may help with obtaining materials that are not immediately available.

Hand or Manual Searching  

While articles and sources can be found through an index and database, many scholars also browse, flip, or skim through the content of a journal on related to their topic and its previously published issues.  Scholars will often find relevant articles or those of interest.  Searching an index and database yields many articles, but hand or manual searching can often locate sources that may had otherwise been missed, often known in library searching as serendipity!  This can be done in addition to a index and database search.

What about Google?  

Google, the popular internet search engine, is an index of web pages.  It is a finding tool for web pages and can help identify some sources of information.  Google itself is not a publisher or a direct source of information like books, journals, or data.  Its technology searches the content of web pages and some documents, and then provides links to them.  Although it may provide scholarly or professional articles in a list of search results, the academic publishers that provide content may have a paywall where readers may be asked to pay to see it.

Google Scholar is designed to search academic, research, and governmental web pages.  However, it has limited ability to directly search specialized sources such as indexes and databases.  Google Scholar may not provide direct or unrestricted access to these sources.  Due to their concerns about AI and its web scraping practices, major academic publishers and distributors of those works are no longer providing bibliographic citation information, abstracts, or links to full publications through Google Scholar.  

Google is the most commonly used resource for finding content on the web, but using only Google or Google Scholar does not provide a complete or comprehensive search for information.  We, along with your professors and advisors, recommend to use it in combination with subject-specific indexes and databases along with manual searching for your literature review.

Subscription-Based Services

Paywall Example

Image:  Taylor & Francis (2022).  Paywall example.

Have you been asked to pay for a scholarly article when you found it on the internet?  This is known as a paywall.  With the exception of open access journals or publishers, most academic publishers such as Elsevier and vendors such as EBSCO and ProQuest sell access to their publications and articles; they are not free!  They are subscription-based where libraries or other organizations pay fees and follow licenses which provide online journals, eBooks, streaming video, and other materials to their students and affiliates. 

Conditions of access are generally defined by service contracts and licenses between libraries and these information companies.  Due to these contacts, access to these electronic resources is typically restricted to affiliates; for FAU, its current students, staff, and faculty are approved users.  To access these sources, users need to authenticate themselves; at FAU, its affiliates use OpenAthens.

To avoid paywalls or paying out of pocket for journal articles, FAU affiliates can use FAU Libraries' information sources or request items via InterLibrary Loan (ILL) for materials to which the libraries do not have access.  Again, see your local or institutional library/ information center for comparable services.  

Benefits and Challenges of Using Databases

Although a database is an important tool for locating information, library patrons should be aware of the benefits and challenges involved with using one.

  Benefits: Challenges:


The scope of available information, which includes date range, topics covered, and sources of information.

Databases provide a broad scope of coverage and includes many types of publications. Scope of coverage depends on a library or institution's subscription; their access may not provide complete coverage or access to full text articles.


The ability to have direct access to articles and information

Many articles and documents are readily available through indexes and databases. Database access usually requires a subscription or an affiliation to an institution; they are not free.

Searching and Access Points:

Ways to find information within a database; includes navigational features, controlled vocabulary and metadata within records.

Databases allow many access points, or ways to find articles, through the active links in a record, its controlled vocabulary and its other features. A simple keyword search tends to yield too many results or items that may not be relevant to your topic.

Using Boolean Terms:

Using the words AND, OR, or NOT in a database search in order to combine (AND), limit (NOT), or broaden (OR) a search.

May create a more precise search and yield more relevant results. Usually gives fewer results than a keyword search.

Truncation and Limiters:

Using certain symbols (* or ?, depending on the database) to search for various spellings of a keyword. 

Example:  behavi*r to find behavior or behaviour.

Using truncation or limiters are other ways to refine a search for information. Sometimes using truncation or limiters can disable other search features, depending on the database.

Source:  Pritchard, E., & Scott, P. R. (1996).  Literature searching in science, technology and agriculture (Revised Edition).  Greenwood.

Last updated on May 10, 2024 3:06 PM