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Michigan State University

BHEARD Research Guide

Guide to information resources for participants in the BHEARD program. Last updated: 8/18/23.


To search the contents of magazines, journals, and newspapers for articles on a particular topic, you may need to use a separate tool from the library catalog, depending on the set-up at your particular institution. Databases may be subject-specific or cross-disciplinary; they may include only research articles or a mixture of scholarly, popular literature, and trade publications. The Libraries have a helpful chart you can consult for information on distinguishing between popular, scholarly, and trade publications. Most article databases include abstracts summarizing the article content and some provide the full text of articles.

Which index/database should I use?

There are hundreds of article databases, covering different fields and journals. Librarians are always happy to suggest an appropriate database for a particular research topic, but library websites generally provide a listing by subject to help users identify an appropriate database on their own. MSU Library users can browse indexes by subject using a drop-down menu. Depending on your research topic, you may need to explore resources in several subject fields (e.g., Agriculture, African Studies, Biological Sciences, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine) and search several databases.

Once you've connected to the desired database, you can search for articles by keyword(s). Different databases may use different terminology or spelling, so be flexible in your choice of keywords; consider synonyms/alternate terms (e.g., genetically modified organisms vs. GMOs; drought resistance vs. drought tolerance) and various word endings (e.g., singular vs. plural). Examine the subject headings or descriptors associated with articles of interest to identify other potentially useful keywords.

Core Databases

These databases are commonly found in most U.S. university libraries. Links specific to MSU users are provided.

What About Google Scholar?

Google Scholar is a simple tool for conducting a broad search for scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations. While you are a student at MSU (or another U.S. university), you can set up your Google Scholar Preferences in order to gain seamless access to that university's subscriptions.

Google Scholar vs. PubMed vs. Web of Science

Google Scholar can be a useful tool but it is important to know some of the main differences between it and databases when searching the literature. Some key differences are: what is included in each and how content is selected, how data is entered, and what is search.

Getting the Full Text of Articles

Not every article you find via Google Scholar will be available full-text for free. While there is a growing open access movement, the majority of journals will still require a subscription. Fortunately, university libraries maintain thousands of paid subscriptions to scholarly, popular, and trade publications and can arrange to get other articles for you throughout InterLibrary Loan and Document Delivery services.

African Studies Resources