Go-To Resources

Web of Science (Harvard Login) has a learning curve but is thorough, comprehensive, and easy to search once you know how. For most topics in this course, Web of Science will give you plenty of high-quality material. See our Web of Science guide for additional search tips.

Pro tips for Web of Science

  • Use a "cited reference" search to follow the legacy of an earlier breakthrough into the current research.
  • Journal impact factors and citation counts can help you gauge the importance of a particular paper.
  • Experiment with document types. "Review" will show you other literature reviews. "Article" is probably your best bet. 
  • coverage: 1945-.

PubMed (Harvard Login) is the major index of medical and biomedical literature used by clinicians and scholars in the U.S. A product of the National Library of Medicine, it's more comprehensive than Web of Science for articles in the medical sciences. See our PubMed guide for additional search tips. 

Pro tips for PubMed

  • Use MeSh terms (subject headings assigned by the NLM) to get the most relevant results.
  • Always look in the left-side filter menu for useful ways to narrow down your results.
    • Experiment with limiting article types. "Journal Articles" is probably your best bet. 
    • Don't limit text availability! "Free full text" will remove content to which Harvard Library subscribes.
    • Limiting to Medline content under "Journal categories" will restrict you to journals of higher quality.
    • Coverage: 1960s-.

Other Major Resources

HOLLIS is Harvard Library's online catalog. Great for getting to full text from a known citation; for searching, it's more reliable than Google Scholar and includes more advanced search features, but doesn't have as many science-specific features as a database like Web of Science.

Pro tips:

  • Sign in. This gets you more and clearer results, and displays internal links like Scan and Deliver, Borrow Direct, Request Pick Up, etc. 
  • Learn the "official" terms (called subject terms) for your topic and then do an Advanced Search to search for those terms in the Subject field.
  • The "reviews" option in the right-side menu locates literature reviews as well as mainstream book reviews.
  • HOLLIS can't search the subscription databases as deeply as you can by going to the database. It also can't search every single one of our subscription databases.
  • HOLLIS is the most authoritative way to search the Harvard Library for any single item. Did you find an article that you can't seem to get to online? Using the Journal Search link in the HOLLIS menu, search by the journal title; you may be able to get to the article online that way instead.

Google Scholar can search in any subject area and will show you lots of results.

Pro tips:

  • Google Scholar lists peer-reviewed articles.
  • You may find plenty of listings, but it's harder to evaluate whether or not you've got a thorough picture of the literature of a topic.
  • Google Scholar is often incomplete in its coverage.
  • You're searching the full text of articles (every single word in the article, not just descriptions of the articles). This can create an overwhelming number of results and brings up less-relevant results. Use lots of keywords to narrow it down.
  • Get behind the paywall: log in to the library-proxied Google Scholar, or see the Harvard Library Google Scholar page to learn how to connect to Harvard Library.

JSTOR (Harvard Login)

  • Use with caution for this particular assignment: for many journals, the most recent 1-5 years are unavailable in JSTOR, so it can be hard to find the latest research.
  • You may find that the other databases mentioned above are more relevant for this course as well as for scholarly and professional work in specific areas of the sciences.

Even More Resources, Specialized by Field

Below are some specialized indexes for specific subjects if Web of Science or another of the "best bet" resources above are not fruitful for basic literature reviews.

Environment and Sustainability

Environment Index (1973-) (Harvard Login) Citation and abstracting info for international journals.

  • Covers relevant areas of agriculture, ecosystem ecology, energy, environmental law, geography, marine and freshwater resources, public policy, social impacts and urban planning. 
  • Contains an environment thesaurus (acts as a controlled vocabulary for more precise searching).

Academic Search Premier (1984-) (Harvard Login) Multidisciplinary database of articles.

  • This all-purpose database searches across many fields and is helpful when your topic encompasses multiple disciplines.

Agricultural and Environmental Science Database (1950-) (Harvard Login)

  • Provides access to environmental information from scientific research and government policies.
  • Includes scholarly articles (you can limit to Scholarly Journals under Advanced Search--Source Type), but also conference papers, government documents, working papers and more. 
  • Coverage areas: air pollution, marine pollution, freshwater pollution, sewage and wastewater treatment, waste management, land pollution, toxicology and health, noise, radiation and environmental action.

Human/Social Sciences and Sociology

Social Science Premium Collection (Harvard Login)

  • Combines go-to databases in anthropology, criminology, economics, education, international relations, library science, linguistics, political science, public policy, social work, and sociology.
  • Includes International Bibliography of the Social Sciences and Sociological Abstracts.

Mathematics, Computer Science & Technology, Physics, Engineering

MathSciNet is a database of reviews, abstracts and citations for most of the mathematical sciences literature. 

  • Covers material from the early 17-century forward including the significant journals Mathematical Reviews and Current Mathematical Publications.
  • Allows users to track history and influence of research publications
  • Search help: http://www.mathscinet.info/index.html

ACM Digital Library is the digital library of the Association for Computing Machinery.

  • Topic search available via the "Computing Classification System" (linked from bottom of main page).

INSPEC is the database of the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEEE)

  • More comprehensive than Web of Science for articles in the engineering sciences.
  • Covers information technology, physics, electronic engineering and electronics, computers and control engineering.
  • Date range: 1898-

arXiv.org is an openly accessible, moderated repository of research articles and pre-prints in engineering and related fields (physics, math, comp sci, nonlinear sciences, quantitative bio, and statistics).

  • Explore the index terms on the home page to find material on a specific topic.
  • Authors upload their own articles to arXiv:
    • Contents are often up-to-the-minute.
    • Important material may be missing (if the author didn't upload it).
    • It's doubly important to evaluate the credentials of the author and the journal.


PubMed is usually sufficient for a literature review of a medical topic, but for certain topics the databases below have a more specialized focus:

Alt-HealthWatch offers full text and is focused on complementary, alternative and integrated approaches to health care and wellness.

CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature) (1981- ) covers nursing, health sciences librarianship, alternative/complementary medicine, consumer health and allied health disciplines.  Includes health care books, nursing dissertations, selected conference proceedings, standards of practice, educational software, audiovisuals and book chapters.

Health Business FullTEXT Elite (1965- ) indexes literature of health care administration. Topics covered include hospital management, hospital administration, marketing, human resources, computer technology, facilities management and insurance. Some pre-1965 coverage.