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Finding Information: Overview

Tips on how to find scholarly information for your research.

Finding information

  • Finding information is very easy, as information is published just about everywhere in the online world we live in. 
  • The key to being an efficient researcher is knowing about the best information sources to search for your topic in order to find the authoritative, scholarly resources expected of college students. 
  • Librarians specialize in knowing about information sources, so Ask Us for assistance when you need it. 
  • This section of the Information Navigator focuses on guiding you to library online catalogs, journal article databases, and scholarly web collections so your research time will be well-focused and productive.

Why use books?

  • To read summarized knowledge on established areas of research.
  • To get a good starting point for selecting and refining a topic.
  • To find bibliographies and reference lists that will help you identify other important works on a subject.

Why use articles?

  • To find highly specific information on a topic: articles are often the first place where new research is discussed.
  • To see many publication types: journals, magazines, newspapers, chapters in books, conference proceedings, technical reports, trade journals, etc.
  • Articles published in scholarly journals are usually peer-reviewed.

The free web vs. the fee web

  • The "free" web is the part of the web that you browse or surf all the time via commercial search engines like Google or Yahoo. Most of the information found there is free and accessible to anyone with a web connection and web browser.
  • The "fee-based" web is hidden or invisible from commercial search engines for various reasons. Usually information in the hidden web is accessible only to those who register, pay or license the information. But that means the information is of high quality and more valuable than what you typically find on the free web. Examples of the fee-based web are included in a journal search or database search.  


The table below compares the various differences between library databases and Internet search engines.

Library Databases

(e.g., Web of Science & Academic Search Complete)

Internet Search Engines

(e.g. Google & Bing)

Types of Information Retrieved

  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Popular magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Conference papers
  • Reference book articles (e.g., directories, encyclopedias)
  • Books
  • No sponsors or ads

When to Use

  • Best for college level research.
  • When you need to find credible information quickly.
  • Best for personal information needs including shopping and entertainment.
  • When you have time to more carefully evaluate information found on the open web.

Creditability / Review Process

  • Articles and books written by journalists or experts in a professional field.
  • All material in a database is evaluated for accuracy and credibility by subject experts and publishers.
  • Reviewed and updated regularly.
  • Lack of control allows anybody to publish their opinions and ideas on the Internet.  
  • Not evaluated (for the most part).  Need to more carefully evaluate web sites for bias, accuracy, and completeness.
  • Many sites are not updated regularly and can become outdated.

Cost / Accessibility

  • Library database subscriptions are paid for through your tuition and other MIT funds.
  • To access databases that MIT Libraries subscribe to, use the database search to ensure you are authenticated through TouchStone with your MIT Certificates or Kerberos ID.
  • Most information found through a search engine is free. 
  • Library databases cannot be accessed through search engines or the open web.
  • Many web sites found through Internet search engines contain licensed, proprietary information and require you to logon with a user account.  You must already be a member or pay for a subscription in order to access the material from these web sites.


  • The organization and various search capabilities of library databases allow users to search for and retrieve focused and relevant results.
  • Database search tips: Search for phrases, nouns, other search tips
  • Less ability to search for and retrieve precise results using search engines like Google.  Need to wade through a “grab bag” of results.
  • Google search tips

Constancy / Permanence / Stability

  • Published content from journals, magazines, newspapers and books does not change.
  • Most material remains in a database for a significant length of time and can be easily retrieved again.
  • Web site content can often change.
  • Web pages and sites may disappear for a number of reasons.  May not be able to retrieve the same content at a later time.


  • Many databases include a citation tool that will automatically generate references for the articles you select.  You may still need to “tweak” this citation but these tools serve as a good starting point for citing your articles in a particular format.
  • Most web sites found on the open web do not provide a citation tool or an already formatted APA or MLA style reference for the web pages on their site.  You will need to start your citation from scratch using APA or MLA style manuals or handouts from your instructor or the library. 

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