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How to Evaluate Resources: Search Engines & Databases

A guide to evaluating search engines, books, articles and websites for research.

Evaluating Your Search Engine/Database

Internet search engines can be great research tools, but academic research also relies greatly on databases.  (See sidebar:  What is a database?)  Consider the following questions when evaluating whether an internet search engine or a database will be the best tool for you:


1. Authority

Who created the search engine/database and what are their affiliations?

What is the reputation of the creator?

2.  Accuracy

Where does their information come from?

What is the quality of the information they provide?

What selection criteria, if any, do they use in choosing the sources they index?

3.  Objectivity

What is the purpose of the search engine/database?

4.  Currency

What years does it cover?

How up to date is the information provided?

5.  Coverage

Who is the intended audience?


See the box below to view a comparison of Google, an all-purpose database and a subject-specific database.

Comparing Search Engines



commercial internet company

Gale, an educational resource company

product of the  American Geosciences Institute


worldwide web

journals, magazines, and newspapers from all major disciplines

 journals, books, dissertations and conference proceedings in the geological sciences



published materials from reputable periodicals

scholarly publications

Selection criteria


sources must be from established journals, magazines and newspapers

sources must be from scholarly research in the geological sciences


quick and easy access to web content

indexing of and access to educational/informational materials

indexing of and access to scholarly research in the field of geology

Intended audience


students and scholars in a wide variety of disciplines

students and scholars in the geological sciences

What is a database?

A database is a compilation of information intended for the purpose of data management and retrieval. 

Library databases are searchable catalogues which index books, articles, conference proceedings and/or dissertations.  These databases often contain information that is not freely available on the internet.

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