Comparing Databases: A Brief Look at Academic Search Complete and Periodical Archive Online


When searching for online access to information, options and sources seem to be endless. Even limiting searches to subscription databases leaves one with many different choices. Content may overlap between database providers and even between databases from the same provider. Choices must be made based on who provides the necessary content and how easy that content is to navigate. Below, two different database providers as well as one of their databases will be compared as an example of criteria to consider: EBSCOhost and ProQuest.

EBSCOhost & ProQuest

EBSCOhost and ProQuest are both popular database providers—for good reason. Both providers offer databases related to almost every subject a person would want to study. While collections cover similar ranges of content, each provider has stronger and weaker areas as well as some with a slightly different focus. ProQuest, for example, offers a strong collection of dissertation-related sources—not surprisingly, growing out of the dissertation publisher UMI. EBSCOhost, provides access to a smaller, free collection: American Doctoral Dissertations, 1933–1955. On a different subject, such as religion, EBSCOhost offers many different databases where ProQuest offers only a few directly tied to religion. On a subject like genealogical research, both have strong databases. However, EBSCOhost offers more information from other countries, with its MyHeritage Library Edition database, while ProQuest leans more exclusively to the United States and the United Kingdom with databases like Ancestry Library Edition.

The type and date of information these providers offer vary by specific database, but the range available is significant for both. Both ProQuest and EBSCOhost provide a wealth of material types from newspapers and music to books and periodicals. Most databases only extend content into the 1900’s, but some stretch beyond that into the 1800’s or even as far back as the late 1400’s, such as EBSCOhost’s European Views of the Americas: 1493–1750.

Both EBSCOhost and ProQuest have long histories and continue to expand. EBSCOhost traces its roots back over 70 years while ProQuest stretches the earliest work back to over a century ago. Their continued growth is a testament to their content and the quality of their indexes.

Academic Search Complete & Periodicals Archive Online

Comparing individual databases allows one to examine the structure of the information and the functional abilities of the database. Here, the EBSCOhost database Academic Search Complete (ASC) and the ProQuest database Periodicals Archive Online (PAO) will be examined.

Record structure: Each entry of both databases provides the title, author(s), publication title/source (volume and issue information), the type of document, document date, DOI, and ISSN (providing the source is a periodical). Of these items, author and publication are hyperlinked in both databases to aid searching of additional resources with the same content in those fields. After these items, the records begin to differ.

Records in the two databases appear quite different in content. Beyond the basics listed in the previous paragraph, EBSCOhost provides subject terms specific to the specific article or record, keywords supplied by the author, an abstract (usually), and “author affiliations”—institutions the author(s) may be associated with. A few additional fields such as the publisher’s logo make infrequent appearances in the records. In EBSCOhost, all of the subject terms and author’s keywords are hyperlinked. ProQuest gives more publication information about the specific resources including the country of publication, city of publication, publisher, number of pages (rather than just the page range), former titles of the journal (if there are any), the last update to the record, and subjects for the publication (rather than the specific article). The publication subjects are hyperlinked as is the volume number for the journal—providing quick access to the other articles in the same volume.

Advanced searches: Both PAO and ASC allow advanced searches using the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT, as well as truncation, wildcards, proximity searches. Both also allow searching specific fields: ASC provides seventeen fields in the drop-down list while PAO offers hundreds to choose from (unfortunately, this seems to be the entire possible list for any database, though most only use a fraction of the fields). ASC allows quotations for phrases and exact terms while PAO uses quotations and “exact” to indicate an exact phrase. PAO also allows command line entry of number range operators to indicate “greater than” or “less than” type information in fields such as dates.

Limiters: Both databases allow the user to limit based upon peer review, publication date, source type (and document type in PAO, which still falls under source type in ASC), publication, and language. PAO also allows limiting by publication subject. ASC allows additional limiters based upon subject (article-level), publisher, company, geography, and NAICS/industry. Limiters may be combined in both databases.

Controlled vocabulary: ASC provides access to the subject terms—the thesaurus—through a link at the top of the search page. A search box allows the user to navigate the full thesaurus with the traditional features like broader and narrower terms, “use”, and “used for.” PAO doesn’t provide a thesaurus.

Sorting (search results): EBSCOhost’s ASC allows one to sort results by date (oldest or newest), author, source and relevance. ProQuest’s PAO, on the other hand, does not offer sort options from the search results page—though, sort options may be chosen before a search from the advanced search page.

Command line searching: Command line searching is possible in both databases, allowing a person to search multiple fields using field codes and operators easier than using a set of drop-down options from a search box. In ASC, for example, one could search for “ SU theology AND (TI Trinity OR (TI Christology AND TI Spirit)) ”—SU being “subject” and TI being “title.” This type of search could be impossible to create using individual search boxes and the drop-down operators provided in the interface. One important difference between the two databases here is that while both allow command line searching in the advanced search page, PAO also offers a specific command line search page. There, PAO offers a larger box in which to type, but also allows “iterative searching”—the ability to run one search followed by another. Multiple search strings may be entered on the command line search page in PAO.


Different databases and database providers may provided the same or similar content, but each database presents that content in slightly different ways. Record fields will play a large role in how a person may find a resource: they set the range of information that may be searched (ignoring full-text searches at this point). For a person to find and use the right information, they must be able to access it. Giving thought to the content and structure of individual databases will aid a researcher in that process.


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