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Web of Science: Using a Citation Database: 2. General Search

Why Use a Citation Database for a Literature Search?

Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar are excellent resources for finding papers on a topic, including papers in the biomedical sciences, that are not in MEDLINE.

  • Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar are interdisciplinary databases. Use them if your topic is interdisciplinary (e.g., biophysics, medical ethics) or is on a topic outside of biomedicine (e.g., botany, chemistry, engineering, education).
  • Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar are larger than MEDLINE. 
  • Web of Science covers back to 1900; Scopus goes back to 1823 (citing and cited references only go back to 1996). PubMed covers back to 1946, with older material being added gradually. Use Web of Science and Scopus to find older papers

Use Citation Databases to identify the core literature on a topic.

Web of Science and Scopus allow "citation ranking" to identify highly cited papers, which are often the core literature in a field. Google Scholar includes citation ranking in its results.

Web of Science complements MEDLINE

Web of Science


Covers all subjects

Covers medicine and closely related fields

Indexes 12,000+ journals

Indexes 5,200 journals

1900 - present

1950 - present


Although Web of Science indexes more journals than MEDLINE / PubMed, there are journals indexed in MEDLINE that are not in Web of Science. Considering Web of Science as a resource complementary to MEDLINE / PubMed, not as a replacement for it.

This module reviews basic search techniques in Web of Science.

Field searching, combining search terms (Boolean operators), use of quotation marks and truncation, and refining searches are all available in Web of Science. In addition to topic searching, Web of Science is often used to find (and report) the citations to an author's papers, and we will show you how you can combine search techniques in an effective author search.

Note that searching Scopus is very similar to searching Web if Science, and the advanced search options in Google Scholar offer some of the same functionality.