What is the Web of Science? 4 Things You Should Know

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We have mentioned the Web of Science several times throughout the website. Some newbies might ask, “What is the Web of Science?”

I thought it probably appropriate to dedicate an article that introduces the Web of Science, its importance to academic publishing, why it is so useful for research, its unique features, and how to use it to help your research.

What is the Web of Science

Understanding how to leverage the Web of Science database is invaluable for anyone conducting academic research or gathering scientific data. This database provides over 1 billion cited references from thousands of journals, books, and other sources. It can help researchers track ideas across disciplines and time to uncover connections and new avenues of exploration.

Throughout this blog post, we will summarize the key things you need to know about the Web of Science to utilize its potential fully. Whether new to the database or looking to optimize your usage, this guide will provide actionable tips and insights.

By the end, you will have a firm grasp of how the Web of Science database works and how it can significantly enhance your own research and analysis. Let’s get started!

1. What is the Web of Science?

The Web of Science is one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive platforms that host databases and academic-related data analytics.

First launched in the 1960s by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), it was originally known as the Science Citation Index. Over the decades, it has evolved to encompass over 90 million records and 1.9 billion cited references across multiple disciplines.

The Web of Science platform is designed to provide access to research literature and data. It contains metadata, abstracts, and cited references from thousands of academic journals, books, conferences, postgraduate dissertations and datasets.

Researchers can use it to conduct literature reviews, analyze research trends, trace the history of ideas, access the yearly Journal Citation Reports (JCR), find out a journal’s impact factor and measure the influence of publications and researchers.

Some key features and content of the Web of Science Database include:

  • Over 90 million records from top journals, books, and conferences across sciences, social sciences, and arts & humanities
  • 1.9 billion cited references dating back to 1900
  • Cover-to-cover indexing and abstracts for over 20,000 journals
  • Citation indexes and analysis tools to visualize connections between publications and track impact
  • Data from regional and niche publications to allow for comprehensive research

The Web of Science’s scope, depth, and power make it an invaluable tool for researchers, librarians, publishers, and institutions. It enables them to find comprehensive scholarly information, analyze research trends, benchmark performance, and inform data-driven decisions.

With its rich content and powerful search and analysis capabilities, the Web of Science continues to play a vital role in academic research and publishing.

1.1. Importance in Academic Research

The Web of Science platform is hugely important for academic research across disciplines. It provides researchers quick and easy access to high-quality, relevant research from leading and niche publications worldwide. This allows them to conduct comprehensive literature reviews, discover connections between topics, and identify seminal works or rising scholars in their field.

Citation analysis tools in the Web of Science also enable researchers to evaluate the impact and influence of studies published in their discipline. Metrics like the h-index and citation counts can inform research focus, collaborations, and funding decisions.

Additionally, Web of Science supports research evaluation at the institutional level through its platform.

1.2. Role in Data Collection

Web of Science is a data aggregator and hub for scholarly communication metrics. It collects comprehensive metadata, abstracts, citations, and other data points from publications across global regions and disciplines. This data powers its search, discovery, and analytical capabilities. It also informs research evaluation metrics.

Additionally, Web of Science provides indexed data to other scholarly platforms and altmetric providers. This enables them to enhance their own products and services. The database’s vast coverage and depth of metadata make it a vital data source for the scholarly ecosystem.

Web of Science facilitates discovery, informed research, and data-driven decisions across the research lifecycle through data collection and indexing. It continues to expand its data sources to maintain its position as a leading scholarly research and metrics database.

2. Why use the Web of Science?

The Web of Science databases provides researchers with many benefits. Here are some of the key advantages of using this database for academic research:

2.1. Coverage

The Web of Science has exceptionally comprehensive coverage, indexing over 20,000 academic journals across 250 scientific disciplines. This allows researchers to easily find relevant papers on niche topics that other databases may not cover.

2.2. Citation Analysis

A standout feature of the Web of Science is its powerful citation analysis tools. It allows you to trace the impact and connections between papers and authors. This helps determine the most influential articles and researchers in any given field.

2.3. Multidisciplinary Research

Most databases focus on specific subject areas. The Web of Science covers natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities – making it ideal for multidisciplinary research projects.

2.4. International Scope

Over 90 international publishers contribute to the Web of Science. This diversity of content makes it the premier database for research on a global scale.

2.5. Historical Depth

With coverage dating back to 1900, the Web of Science allows you to explore the history and development of subjects over decades. This provides invaluable context for modern research.

While databases like Scopus and Google Scholar have some overlapping capabilities, the Web of Science remains the most comprehensive and powerful citation database available. Its unique features make it an essential tool for serious academic research.

3. Understanding the Features of the Web of Science

The Web of Science platform stands out from other academic databases due to its unique features that enhance the research process. Here are some of the features:

3.1. Citation Network

The Web of Science has a complex citation network that allows researchers to trace the impact and connections between different research publications and authors. This allows for powerful citation analysis and mapping of research trends over time.

3.2. Multidisciplinary Content

Unlike databases focusing on specific subject areas, the Web of Science covers over 200 disciplines ranging from sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities. This diversity of content allows researchers to make connections across different fields of study.

3.3. Backfile Depth

With citation records dating back to 1900, the Web of Science has extensive historical depth. This enables researchers to analyze long-term citation patterns and trends in their field of interest.

3.4. Author Profiles and Metrics

The Web of Science provides author performance metrics such as the h-index, allowing easy analysis of an individual researcher’s citation impact and influence within their field over time.

3.5. Journal Analytic Tools

The database offers insightful analytic tools at the journal level, including impact factor trends, benchmarking against competitors, and analysis of publication output. This aids in journal evaluation and selection.

By leveraging these unique features, researchers can enhance literature reviews, support research proposals, inform publishing strategies, and analyze productivity. The Web of Science opens new possibilities for harnessing the connections between disciplines, publications, authors, and ideas.

4. How to Use the Web of Science Database

Using the Web of Science databases effectively requires some initial guidance. Here are some guidelines:

4.1. Find and Access the Database

University libraries and research institutions can access the Web of Science platform. Accessing the database requires a considerable subscription cost, so you must check with your institution if they subscribe. The rising cost has also caused some institutions to withdraw from the subscription (my organization included).

If you have institutional access, consult a research librarian for login credentials. If off-campus, you may need to connect via a VPN. Once logged in, you will be brought to the main search page.

4.2. Understand the Search Functions

There are two main ways to search the Web of Science database:

  • Basic Search – A simple search bar where you can input keywords, topics, author names, etc.
  • Advanced Search – You can combine multiple search fields like topic, author, publication year, and more using Boolean operators like AND, OR, and NOT.

When first starting out, the basic search is good for general queries. As you become more experienced, use the advanced search for targeted results.

4.3. Refine the Results

Once you have initial search results, you can refine them by:

  • Content Type – Narrow by journals, conferences, books, etc.
  • Subject Areas – Filter by subject/research areas.
  • Publication Years – Focus on date ranges.
  • Document Types – Limit to articles, reviews, proceedings papers, etc.

Refine your search results to find information relevant to your specific needs.

4.4. Analyze Metrics and Connections

Consider metrics like times cited and usage counts when looking at individual records. Also, explore an article’s bibliography and connections to related works. This provides insight into its influence and role within the scholarly literature.

4.5. Save and Export

Save records to your Web of Science account as you find useful content. You can create folders to organize saved literature. Records can also be exported to reference managers like EndNote and RefWorks.

With practice, you will master the basics and unlock the full potential of the Web of Science database for your research purposes.


I hope this compact write-up will address the question of some of you on what the Web of Science is.

In short, the Web of Science is a useful tool to help you discover groundbreaking research and change your approach toward your research expertise. Its comprehensive coverage, powerful citation analysis tools, and unique features can be invaluable to your academic journey.

This database can broaden your understanding of the intricate web of knowledge that makes up our scholarly world, from tracing the lineage of ideas to uncovering connections between seemingly disparate fields. The ability to track the impact of specific researchers and publications will also give you a new perspective on the influence and evolution of thought within my discipline.

Moreover, the Web of Science’s international scope and historical depth will provide a rich context for your research, allowing you to draw insights from various sources and periods. This will be instrumental in shaping your research questions and methodologies, making your work more robust and nuanced.

But beyond its practical benefits, the Web of Science can also teach you valuable lessons about the nature of academic research. It shows you that knowledge is not created in a vacuum but is built upon a vast network of ideas, insights, and discoveries. It reminds us that every piece of research, no matter how small or niche, contributes to this larger conversation.

So whether you’re a seasoned researcher looking to optimize your database use or a newcomer just starting to navigate its features, I hope this guide has been helpful. Remember, the Web of Science is more than just a platform or database – it’s a window into the collective knowledge of our scientific community. Happy researching!

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