Will Web Search Engines Replace Bibliographic Databases in the Systematic Identification of Research?

Jessica Bates, Paul Best, Janice McQuilkin, Brian Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
81 Downloads (Pure)


The availability of web search engines offers opportunities in addition to those provided by bibliographic databasesfor identifying academic literature, but their usefulness for retrieving research is uncertain. A rigorous literaturesearch was undertaken to investigate whether web search engines might replace bibliographicdatabases, using empirical research in health and social care as a case study. Eight databases and five web searchengines were searched between 20 July and 6 August 2015. Sixteen unique studies which compared at least onedatabase with at least one web search engine were examined, as well as drawing lessons from the authors’ ownsearch process. Web search engines were limited in that the searcher cannot be certain that the principles ofBoolean logic apply and they were more limited than bibliographic databases in their functions, such as exportingabstracts. Recommendations are made for improving the rigour and quality of reporting studies of academic literaturesearching.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-17
JournalJournal of Academic Librarianship
Issue number1
Early online date27 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Jan 2017


  • Academic librarianship
  • Bibliographic databases
  • Google Scholar
  • Health research
  • Literature searching
  • Social care research
  • Systematic searching
  • Web search engines


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