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Google Scholar

How, and when, to use Google Scholar to its greatest potential

Getting Around Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a powerful search tool for books, articles, patents, and other scholarly and technical literature. It looks a lot like the Google interface almost everybody is familiar with, but (like any database) using it effectively means knowing its strengths and limitations. It isn't always the best tool for the job, and you usually need to use it alongside the databases the library subscribes to.

This guide will help you set up Google Scholar to search the library database, install the Scholar Button to search for articles from any website, and--most importantly--know when you need to use something else. Good research rarely means looking in just one place.

Strengths and Limitations

Google Scholar is great at some things; less so at others. Knowing the difference will make sure Google Scholar is helpful, rather than frustrating.

STRENGTHS

  • It searches a huge variety of sources all at once. Library databases are limited in one way or another. If you think an article could be in either of two or three databases, Google Scholar is a good place to start.
  • It is very easy to see what articles have cited a certain article--"looking forward." This makes it easier to find the most up-to-date sources.
  • You can set up Google Scholar to quickly check if the library has the item.

WEAKNESSES

  • Google Scholar does not know what, say, "Engineering" or "French Literature" are, and you cannot filter results by discipline.  Most of the library's databases are specially designed for certain subjects.
  • Google Scholar can't be filtered by peer-review, or most of the other ways article databases use filters.
  • Google Scholar publications aren't "pre-screened," and might include material from dubious sources. It pays to investigate sources you aren't familiar with.
  • It doesn't have everything; some material can only be found behind our paid-for subscription databases.

Most researchers, including the author of this guide, use Google Scholar all the time. Its ability to take a book or article and move up its citation chain is its greatest strength. However, it is only part of the researcher's skill set. Using databases tailored to certain academic areas can lead to discovery much faster.


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