For us in academia Google scholar is a staple search engine. I have been using it throughout my PhD journey (and beyond) and have also included it in the list of the best websites to find academic books and journal articles. However, Google Scholar is not the be-all and end-all of academic search.
In fact, there is a number of other equally interesting and even more powerful academic search engines that you can use to search for academic and scholarly literature including peer-reviewed journal articles, books, scientific periodicals, reports, and many more.
In the list below I share some of the best academic search engines that are viable alternatives to Google Scholar. Whether you are a student researcher, a budding scholar, or an established educator, these Google Scholar alternatives will empower you with the tools you need to enhance your research skills and improve your overall academic productivity.
WorldCat is one of the largest online library catalogs that connect thousands of libraries collections into a single platform allowing you to search various libraries from a single search box. You can use WorldCat to search for a wide variety of resources including research theses, books, magazines, songs, maps, genealogical records, movies, and more. WorldCat also features open source e-books, articles, and downloadable audiobooks and photos.
WorldCat enables you to access ‘article citations with links to full text, authoritative research materials, one-of-a-kind documents and photos of local or historic significance, and digital versions of rare items that aren’t generally available to the public.’
The way WorldCat works is simple: type in your search query in the site’s search box and browse through the list of libraries that provide access to the material you search for. ‘you can either directly access online content that’s openly available or click on a link for a library near you. You’ll be able to check out or reserve materials (if you’re a member) or find contact information to get more details.’
Education Resources and Information Center (ERIC) is an online database of a wide range of academic materials and grey literature from both journal and non-journal sources including research reports, journal articles, dissertations/theses, books, opinion papers, speeches, meeting papers, collected works, reference materials, guides, surveys, and many more. ERIC is sponsored by the United States Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Access to ERIC is free and does not require any membership or subscription.
ERIC provides a host of interesting features to help you find relevant research materials. For instance, you can search for academic work published within a specific time frame, or you can use descriptors to further narrow down your topic and target a specific area. You can also filter your search by source, author, publication type, education level, audience, location, among other filters. You can also choose whether you want to search for only peer-reviewed articles or for full-text that is available on ERIC.
ScienceDirect is a platform by Elsevier that offers access to a huge collection of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters including open access materials. You can search for academic literature by keywords, author name, journal/book title, volume, issue, or page. Or, you can use advanced search to search for specific documents or parts of a document.
ScienceDirect allows you to download in PDF format one or several books, book chapters, journal issues, or journal articles provided you meet one of the following conditions: you are logged to ScienceDirect through the account of your institution, you have purchased the document yourself, or the document you are looking for is open access and therefore is freely accessible.
Academia is another wildly popular research platform where you can search for and download tons of academic and scholarly work for free. To be able to download an academic paper you need to have an account on Academia, but you don’t need an account if you only want to read the paper on the site.
As is the case in ResearchGate, some authors in Academia do not share their full texts. They only feature abstracts, excerpts or paper previews in which case you need to directly contact the author and ask for the full text.
Academia also offers a ‘My Library’ feature that you can use to save papers you are interested in. You can not add your own papers to My Library, only papers authored by others. Another excellent feature provided by Academia is PDF Packs or bulk download (premium feature) which allows you to download groups of papers related to the paper you are viewing.
‘Say you find an incredible paper that is the foundational paper of your research topic and you know you want everything related to it. Instead of just selecting “download” or clicking on all the papers in the related papers sidebar, simply click “Download Full PDF Package” next to [the] regular download button!’
Academia offers a premium subscription with tons of interesting features including: mentions (learn who cites you), readers (learn about those who interact with your work), enhanced analytics (learn when and where your Academia profile is discovered and viewed), advanced search, personal website, grants (search grants and fellowship opportunities), PDF Packs, search alerts (receive automatic reports of saved search queries), summaries (receive summarized versions of papers), and many more.
RefSeek is an academically focused search engine. It is like Google Scholar but with way less features. When you run an academic search query on RefSeek, the site searches billions of documents such as web pages, books, encyclopedia, journals, newspapers and many more. You have way more chances to find relevant academic sources without the ‘information overload of a general search engine’.
RefSeek also offers a directory with aggregated resources covering various subject areas including: science, atlases, coding, dictionaries, literature, mathematics, writing, visual arts, translation, games, encyclopedias, calculators, almanacs, teacher resources and many more. RefSeek is completely free and does not require any sign-up or registration.
BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) is another good academic search engine operated by Bielefeld University Library. It offers access to over 240 million documents from over 8000 content providers. Over half of the the indexed materials in BASE is open access and is freely accessible. BASE allows you to run targeted searches and get academically relevant results .
When you conduct academic searches on BASE, you will get results with precise bibliographic data together with information about access and terms of re-use for a document. BASE also provides you with handy features to help you effectively search their extensive database. For instance, you can refine your search by author, subject, Dewey Decimal Classification, year of publication, content provider, language, document type, and many more.
‘In BASE two different search surfaces are available: a basic search providing a single search field (search in all parts of a document by default) and an advanced search with multiple search fields and more sophisticated search options. In the basic search you get search suggestions after typing at least 3 letters. By selecting a search suggestion you can apply it to the search field.’
ResearchGate is a research networking site where authors deposit their papers, connect with other researchers, search for and discover research content, and engage in collaborative research projects. ResearchGate’ s networking capabilities help researchers build research communities and stay up to date about recent publications in their field of study. As a registered member of ResearchGate, you get to highlight and add comments to others research, review their work, and engage in academic conversations with others.
You can also add research to your public profile to make it discoverable and get feedback from other researchers. You can even share your preprints to get feedback from others before you publish it. ResearchGate provides you with analytic reports detailing the performance of your papers in terms of the number of people viewed it, number of citations, level of interaction, and many more.
ResearchGate is also a discussion platform where you can ask research-related questions and get responses from other researchers. If you have no questions you can still take part in the ongoing conversation by contributing answers to questions posed by other participants.
Recommendations is another great collaborative feature in ResearchGate. You can mark any specific research paper as a recommendation to your peers and network. Recommendations are public and those in your research network will be notified of your recommendations. Also, any researcher will be able to see recommendations when they view the research page. Recommending research papers is a great way to share valuable research with your peers, start discussions around specific research papers, and keep track of an ongoing research project.
While some of the resources on ResearchGate are available for free download in full-text format, others are not and you can only access their abstract. To get access to these materials, you may want to send direct messages to their authors using the site’s messaging service. I have myself obtained full-text papers from authors through direct email. Check out my ResearchGate profile if you want to connect with me.