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Academic search engines

Research is often a tedious process that requires gathering information/data from a variety of sources. Prior to the internet, most research materials were sourced from bookshops, newspapers, print journals, private and public libraries, among others. With the emergence of the internet, a large number of academic search engines have emerged to make gathering research and other educational materials a lot easier. It has also enabled the authors of such materials to enjoy wider access to their works, leading to more citations and recognition. A few of these search engines are discussed below.   

Google Scholar

Muck like generic search, Google is also the leader among academic search engines with its service Google Scholar. Launched in November 2004, the impressive database contains a large collection of articles from peer-reviewed journals, abstracts, citations, court opinions, conference papers, preprints, books, theses, dissertations, patents, and other scholarly literature. These materials are sourced from other online repositories, academic publishers, universities, and other professional organizations as well as websites.

For more details on how to use it, check out our guide on Google Scholar Advanced Search.

Microsoft Academic

Microsoft Academic is Microsoft’s version of Google Scholar. It is a free academic search engine created by Microsoft Research, the research branch of Microsoft. Though it was launched in February 2016, the history of Microsoft Academic began in 2006 when the company introduced Windows Live Academic Search to compete with Google Scholar. To date, the search engine boasts of in excess of 260 million publications which include book chapters (1%), books (2%), conference papers (2%), patents (24%), journal articles (34%), and other publications (36%).  

In addition to search results and access to sources, Microsoft Academic also offers citation details such as the number of sources, h-index, and g-index. Apart from publications in the field of education, the search engine can also help locate websites that provide state and local records. An article published by Microsoft on May 4 2021 stated that the Microsoft Academic website will no longer be accessible from December 31, 2021.

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) 

Launched in 2004 and home to over 240 million documents from more than 8,000 content providers, BASE prides itself as “one of the world’s most voluminous search engines especially for academic web resources.” These resources include journal articles, preprints, digital collections, institutional repositories, images/videos, and research data. 60% off all indexed documents are Open Access, meaning that their full texts can be accessed free of charge and without registration. BASE is operated by the Bielefeld University Library, Germany.  

To be included in the BASE index, a content provider/source must meet the following three criteria:

  • The source must contain only academic content
  • A fraction of the source’s documents must be available as open access
  • The metadata of the documents must be provided via a valid OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) interface

In terms of software, BASE has been using the open-source search technology of Solr/Lucene since May 2011. Prior to 2011, it was using Microsoft’s FAST (Fast Search And Transfer) search engine technology.

Educational Resources Information Center

ERIC is a comprehensive, easy-to-use, internet-based bibliographic and full-text database and search engine focusing on education research and information. It was founded on May 15, 1964, and provides access to bibliographic records of journal and non-journal literature from 1966 to date. The ERIC academic search engine is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

ERIC’s target audience includes five main user groups: academics, researchers, educators, policymakers, and the general public. The ERIC website is offered free for public use (no membership or subscription required). There is also an ERIC version available at EBSCOhost that is not free.

ERIC’s database stores bibliographic records (citations, abstracts, and other useful data) for 1.6 million items indexed since 1966. They include over a thousand journals, books, research syntheses, conference papers, technical reports, policy papers, and other education-related materials.

Documents indexed in ERIC come from research centers, scholarly organizations, university presses, professional associations, policy organizations, the U.S. Department of Education, and other US federal, state, and local agencies. Individuals can also contribute research papers, conference papers, theses, and dissertations.


ResearchGate is a professional network for scientists and researchers based in Berlin, Germany, and launched in 2008. It presently has more than 20 million members (including 79 Nobel prize winners) from all over the world. The organization says its mission is “to connect the world of science and make research open to all.”

The service, among other things, enables users to add, create, upload, submit, distribute, send, share, or post content like articles, data, text, photographs, images, illustrations, advertisements, job posts, or other information on or to the Service. It provides access to over 135 million publication pages.

In a nutshell, ResearchGate members can:

  • Share their publications, access millions of other publications, as well as publish their data.
  • Link up with and collaborate with colleagues, peers, co-authors, and specialists.
  • Access statistics, including statistics about those reading and citing their publications.
  • Ask questions, get answers, and solve research problems.
  • Find jobs on the research-focused job board.
  • Share updates about their current project, as well as stay in touch with the latest research.

The service is available only for those that are 18 and above. Reading articles on the website does not require membership though you may be asked to join or request access from the author before downloading.

Criticisms have been leveled at ResearchGate for unilaterally sending unsolicited email invitations to coauthors of papers published on their website in a way that suggested that the emails were sent by the other coauthors. The organization claims to have stopped sending such mails around November 2016. Also, a study disclosed that more than 50% of papers uploaded on the site seemed to violate copyright laws because the uploaded papers were publishers’ versions.


It is hard to imagine the education industry today without academic search engines. Since their emergence, these databases have helped make the often tedious process of gathering research and other educational materials a lot less difficult. They’ve also helped provide career-enhancing publicity to authors.

Other resources

This post was produced as part of a research guide series by Avidnote which is a free web-based app that helps you to write and organize your academic writing online. Click here to find out more.