#Finding scientific information: Choosing sources for an information search

Information sources to separate needs

Information literacy is defined as knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner. The familiarity with the publication culture of your scientific discipline is an essential part of information literacy.

The choice of information sources depends on the need: do you need, for example, articles, statistics or official information? Is it a matter of collecting extensive scientific data about the research topic or finding a single piece of factual information? An extensive information search might involve many different kinds of searches.

Different scientific disciplines have different publication cultures. In natural sciences and medicine articles in international peer-reviewed journals are the predominant publication type, whereas in social sciences and humanities books and national journals are also important publication types. Read more about different publication types.

Information need

Source of information


Beginning a search on a new subject or wanting to find out which databases offer suitable references

Subject guides or
databases in Oula-Finna by category

Running test searches in different databases.

A few quick references on a topic are needed

Multidisciplinary user interfaces or databases

In multidisciplinary user interfaces (e.g. ProQuest, EBSCOhost), it is possible to select relevant databases from different disciplines, or then the database can be totally multidisciplinary (e.g. Web of Science)


Google Scholar

A web search engine for scientific information.

You would like to use as specific a database as possible

Subject guides or
databases in Oula-Finna by category

You can find key databases for the discipline from the interleaves of Subject guides.

Reference search: who has used as a source a particular article or author

Citation databases

more information: Cited reference searches

When you would like to know in the future what has been published on a topic

Alert and RSS feed services offered by databases

more information: Current awareness

Still having problems with choosing the information sources?

Information specialist of your own discipline

Contact the Information Service

Criteria for database choice

Databases can be divided into reference, full text and factual databases. They can be multidisciplinary or they may concentrate on one single discipline or topic area. When running an information search, one should also keep in mind how broad or deep the results should be in terms of, for example, time span or geography.

The choice of suitable database(s) for your information search is affected by many factors. Here are the major factors:

Subject matter

Some databases are multidisciplinary, but others focus on a particular discipline or subject matter. For example, the Web of Science covers a number of disciplines, whereas FishBase concentrates merely on fish species. Often one has to perform searches in two or more databases to be sure that the subject matter is covered.

Reliability of information

When evaluating the reliability of an information source, it is important to establish the background of the source of information. Does it come from a scientific or professional expert, or is it functioning from ideological or commercial considerations? University libraries make their choices about databases with a view to their suitability for gathering scholarly information. The quality of a database can also be assessed by looking to see if, for example, it offers tools for analysis. There is also variation in the quality of references which databases contain.

Time span

There is variation in the time span covered by reference databases. The majority of e-journal databases contain information from the 1990's to the present day. It is also worth noticing how often the database is updated.

Geographic coverage

The geographic coverage of databases varies. For example, the economics database ABI/INFORM is rather US centred, whereas ProQuest European Buisness focuses on Europe.

Availability of material

E-journal databases offer full-text articles, depending upon the terms of the access rights agreement. The availability of the sources contained in the search results from the reference databases (from Oulu University Library or other libraries in Finland, the Internet or abroad) must be checked separately. If only a citation found in a database, with SFX you can see whether the item is available electronically and link directly to the full-text.

Language of a user interface and contents

English is the language for searches in most international databases used at the University of Oulu. References and their abstracts are in English, even though the publication itself might, for example, be in Japanese.

The usability of a database and the available tools

 To which fields can one limit a search? Is it possible to combine more than two search terms in a search string? Is it possible to combine results lists from separate searches? Does the database contain an in-built thesaurus? Can references be exported to a reference management program etc.?