First, the four most common article search engines:
- Web of Knowledge (subscription required): Web based search engine let's you to search multiple ways (topic, title, author, journal, publisher, year, boolean) but all word based. Covers Science Citation Index starting 1900, social sciences 1956-present and arts & humanities 1975-present. Thompson ISI, makers of WoK (Web of Knowledge), also offer journal impact factors (learn about it here) for every journal that is out there. Results of the searches can be saved and exported to the reference softwares such as Endnote. To access an article you have to be lucky to have your university have an agreement with them to establish a one-click access system. If not you'll have to find the journal through your subscription and access their archives. Or do the old school way and make a trip to the library.
- SciFinder (subscription and software required): Software based ACS trademarked search engine allows also a keyword search (topic, author, organization) but they have a state-of-the-art molecular structure search. Locate tool finds you the literature, patents and chemicals with ease and browse command takes you to the list of 1992 journals. To access an article a browser based engine "ChemPort connection" launches and gets you the article.
- Google Scholar (free): The DOI (Digital Object Identifier) of Crossref search system was employed by Google into a useful all free search engine. Only word search of course but is effective since you don't need subscription to search within the articles. You cannot view or download them if you don't have the access privileges to those journals though.
- J-Stor (subscription required): More focused on Social Sciences but this engine also includes some life sciences journals such as Science. It comes handy whenever I need a very early issue of Science.
When I want to learn about a field I do a Web of Knowledge search first and get "most relevant" results as well as the latest high profile articles (articles that are cited the highest and/or published in a very high impact factor journal) within that topic. I export them to my endnote library and collect some pdfs to read. A quick read gives an idea of the "favorite" articles and more research within their references give away the framework of the subject area. I use SciFinder and J-Stor as helpers to WoK in finding the missing articles or confirming that I'm not missing any significant one.
SciFinder is the only search engine that you draw your intended chemical and find any article that dares to have it. Such a powerful tool. The problem with SciFinder is it's a separate software and do not want to be pissed. Otherwise it'll hang up on you. My favorite part is the license agreement at every startup. Never read them. And sometimes I decline with a hope to see something funny.
Google scholar is my friend especially when I'm off the subscription territory. If you are craving for some articles and in the middle of nowhere and also without the VPN armor, this is your place. You can get an understanding of what's hot in the field. Lots of junk comes along and that makes it unfavorable for everyday search.
Speaking of everyday search some people advice to do a search in your field every freaking day. Web of Knowledge is the master in this since you can save your search in the advanced search part. You can even tell your computer to do this search before you come in every morning. I don't do it but I like the idea.
This post became too long. I'll continue this topic with the specific journal names and links later.