Web of Science vs. Scopus: Which is better? (Part 1)

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At Intellogist, we’ve spent a long time comparing the coverage information for various patent search systems. This is harder to do than it sounds. What patenting authorities are covered? What document types are covered for each collection (e.g. patents, applications, utility models)? What are the earliest years of coverage? Do the documents exist as individual database records, or are they aggregated into patent families? Are machine translations keyword-searchable? Are human translations available? In the Intellogist Quick Comparison tool, we attempted to boil these questions down to their simplest forms. However, when it comes to coverage comparisons for non-patent literature, no such comparison is possible.  So how can these products be compared?  In this new series I’ll be taking a look at some attributes of two major academic literature collections, Web of Science and Scopus.

Typically collections of sci/tech materials contain, first and foremost, academic journal articles. They’re published by major and minor publishing companies alike, and are open to content produced by researchers in any number of countries. One of the most prominent scientific literature collections is known today as the Web of Science, a product with a long and rich history that is now produced by Thomson Reuters. Web of Science was challenged in 2004 by the release of newcomer Scopus, an academic literature database built on a similar scale and breadth. Volumes could be written on the differences and similarities of these massive literature collection. However, from a commercial perspective, the practicing library on a budget is often forced to make a choice between the two.

Which should you subscribe to? Well, as so often happens in searching, the answer is always full of equivocation.   As a basis for comparison, we can talk about title coverage, years of coverage, geographic coverage, quality of journal selection, quality of indexing, and the list goes on.  The question “which is better?” is really unanswerable – first you need to decide what “better” means.

Lots of folks like to get as concrete as possible and compare coverage by title list. The free online database comparison tool JISC-ADAT has been produced by acquiring journal lists and ISSN numbers from Scopus and Web of Science. The results of such a comparison is below, and bear in mind that the data provided by these companies could have been quite “messy”:

Scopus Vs WoS Venn Diagram

JISC-ADAT comparison of Scopus vs. Web of Science journal lists, both active and inactive titles, 2/28/2011

But does a greater number of titles really mean better (more relevant) search results?  That depends on whether your subscription tool covers the most relevant journal titles for the technology you are interested in. And sadly, it’s really hard to know what those are from the get-go.

The truth is, in most cases, you won’t know until you query both databases: a subscriber’s catch-22.

In my next post I’ll delve into some further points of comparisons between these two databases.  For the present, what are your thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of these two sci/tech search giants?

Read part 2.

Patent Searches from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Landon IP Librarian Kristin Whitman. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

7 Responses

  1. […] Comparing major search products is essential when search resources are limited (which is always!). Last time in this series we examined the number of titles in Web of Science  vs. Scopus, and the overlap between the two.  […]

  2. […] Web of Science vs. Scopus: Which is better? (Part 1) (The Intellogist Blog) Er is een behoorlijk grote overlap “The truth is, in most cases, you won’t know until you query both databases: a subscriber’s catch-22.” In part 2 wordt dekking over landen vergeleken en daar komt uit: “Scopus may offer a wider range of titles not published in the US,” […]

  3. […] Web of Science vs. Scopus: Which is better? – Intellogist  […]

  4. […] Web of Science vs. Scopus: Which is better? – Intellogist  […]

  5. Thank you, Kristin, for this nice comparison. I feel better about having to switch from WOS to Scopus now (maybe won~t miss WOS as I feared).

    There are five comments on this page and two on page 1, but accessing them (to read) is not at all intuitive. Have you got a suggestion how to do that(q) There are links to reply to comments that I can not fully read.

  6. Hello Pat, thank you for your comment! I hope the transition goes painlessly. Those comments are actually not really comments – they are what’s known as “pingbacks” – they indicate that a different blog post mentions our blog post. Click on the title of each comment to see the other posts.


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