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Research: Getting Started: Databases vs Search Engines

Helpful tools for beginning a research project. Useful for ENG 145 - English Composition and beyond.

5 Criteria for Evaluation Web Sites (Applicable to Any Media)

To determine whether a site’s contents (or any media’s contents – books, newspapers, television, etc.) can be trusted, it is best that that you carefully evaluate the site. See below for questions to ask when determining whether a site (or other media) contains sound information.

  1. Audience – To whom is the site directed – children, adults, students; a certain ethnicity, gender or political affiliation? Is it understandable by the layman, or is it highly technical requiring specialized knowledge?
  2. Authority – Is the author of the site listed? Can you determine his/her expertise? Is contact information given – phone number, address, e-mail? With what organization is he/she associated?
  3. Bias - Does the language, tone, or treatment of its subject give the site a particular slant or bias? Is the site objective? Is it designed to sway opinion? Organizational affiliation can often indicate bias.
  4. Currency – Is the site up-to-date with working links? Are dates given for when it was created and last updated? Is the topic current?
  5. Scope – Is the site an in-depth study of the topic going several pages deep, or is it a superficial, single-page look at the subject? Are statistics and sources referenced properly cited? Does the site offer unique information not found anywhere else, e.g., print sources? 

Thanks to the University of Maryland and the University of Dallas for providing the content for this tool

Comparison of Library Databases to Internet Search Engines


 Thanks to the University of Maryland and the University of Dallas for providing the content for this tool.

  The Web (Google, Wikipedia, etc) Databases (EBSCOHost, Lexis-Nexis, JSTOR, etc.)
Authority  Varies at best. Difficult to verify. Cannot limit to
professional, scholarly literature. Information on the
Web is seldom regulated, which means authority is
often in doubt.
Easy to determine. Most databases have 
scholarly/peer-reviewed filter or contain only
trustworthiness are virtually guaranteed.

Number of

1000’s, sometimes millions of hits, much of the
same information repackaged or duplicated.
Duplicates are not filtered out.
Dozens to hundreds of hits (sometimes 1000’s
but not 100’s of 1000’s) - a more manageable
number, and duplicates can be filtered out

Lack of subject focus can result in numerous irrelevant hits – or “junk” – to wade through.
Web information is opinionated and biased.
Unless you are using a subject-specific search engine,
expect “everything and the kitchen sink” in the results.
Quantity ≠ Quality

Focus by subject (business, art, American history) 
and/or format (journals, books, book reviews),
which often means more relevant information and less time wasted dealing with junk.
Information comes from legitimate, quality-controlled sources.
Varies by search engine, but often limited. Can limit by document type (.doc, .pdf) or language, but 
limiting by publication date, format (article, book,etc.), scholarly/peer-reviewed and more is unavailable.
Numerous advanced search features determined 
by database subject focus, e.g., limiting by 
publication type, date, language, document format, scholarly/peer-reviewed status. The list of features is as long as the number of databases available.
Access to
Web information often lives and dies on the Web
and can come from anyone with Internet access. 
Seldom is the information coming from legitimate published sources: magazines, academic journals, books, etc. When it is, the user usually has to pay to access it.
Databases deal only with published information; that is information that originally appeared in print: magazine and journal articles, books, etc. They are more stable than the Web. Through the library’s paid access, all of this information is available to you, the user, for free.