A Review of Google Scholar
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Jeff Coghill, MA, MLIS, CAS-HSL
Outreach Librarian
Director, Eastern AHEC Library Services
Laupus Library
East Carolina University

Overview

Google Scholar is a scholarly adjunct to the massively popular Google search engine. The goal of Google Scholar is to tease out scholarly content posted online. (From their “About Google Scholar” page: “Stand on the shoulders of giants. Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”)

Content

Google Scholar attempts to find all scholarly literature and catalog the deluge of new content on a daily basis. The intended audience is worldwide and includes academics, researchers, healthcare professionals—anyone with the need to peruse the scholarly literature. Citations in Google Scholar are presented in a straightforward manner with the title of an article as the first element, followed by the author, publication, date, relevant links, a brief summary and the ability to use web functionality to categorize citations for personal or later use. The default search yields citations in order or relevance. Another option is to separate citations in a “sort by date” option. Also included are options to search by date, by patents, and by citation. Other options under “Settings” include searching by case law, changing the default 10 citations per page to 20 per page (recommended), links to other citations styles including BibTex, EndNote, RefMan, and RefWorks. Most major world languages can be selected for viewing citations. An outstanding feature is the ability to select preferred libraries, such as a home library, that will display next to citations found in Google Scholar. By signing in with a Gmail account, users may elect to save settings and create personal lists of citations for future reference. Finally, a “Scholar Button” can be added to your browser for quick, one-button access to Google Scholar.

Features/Functionality

A search of Google Scholar yields near instantaneous results. The results can be in the thousands or millions. If the “sort by relevance” default setting is left alone, the result list is astounding. However, if searchers select “sort by date,” the same search changes significantly. Therein lies a major drawback for Google Scholar. For example, a search for “atrial fibrillation” gives 1,030,000 results in the “sort by relevance” option. Change to a “sort by date” and the results list drops to 10,500 citations. Why? For researchers, particularly librarians who work on systematic reviews, this is frustrating (to say the least). Also, in the default setting, the date order display of citations is totally random—with no rhyme or reason. Furthermore, placing quotation marks around the search term drops the results list from 1M+ to 965,000 results. Quotations marks force the search engine to pull only articles which have the search term in title. This could be useful in narrowing a search, but the difference of thousands of citations in a search may not be significant.

What is helpful in Google Scholar is the ability put as many search terms as needed into the search box, which does not phase the search engine. This means a dedicated thesaurus or search terms for the search engine are not needed. Also helpful is the “related searches” feature at the bottom of a results page. These suggested searches can be beneficial when focusing a search. For example, when searching for atrial fibrillation, a suggested search term was “atrial fibrillation in older adults” which yielded 106,000 results. The ability to move a Google Scholar citation into a popular citation manager such as EndNote or RefWorks is especially convenient. The BibTex option can aid in importing citations into less well-known citation managers.

A quick search for “Google Scholar” on YouTube also reveals tutorials that both librarians and faculty can use when libraries are closed. There are hundreds of video tutorials on setting up a myriad of features in Google Scholar from the basic to advanced level.

About Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com/scholar/about.html

Business Model

Free to the world. There is no need to sign up. However, if there is a need to save citations or searches for future reference, creating a Gmail account and logging in to that account and Google Scholar assures good research is saved for the future. This can be done under the “My library” feature in the upper right hand corner of the search page.

Breakthrough

There is no need to purchase Google Scholar. Researchers will be best served by logging into Google Scholar via a Gmail account and saving their work. In my travels as an Outreach Librarian, university students and faculty are quite familiar with Google Scholar. Community college users are somewhat familiar with it, while hospital staff familiarity can range from very familiar to quite unfamiliar with it. I use Google Scholar as an adjunct to finding articles in our university link resolver. Typically, after exhausting all avenues of searching using the link resolver, I will turn to Google Scholar to see if there are other ways to access research articles.

Upgrades

Google Scholar is in a constant state of updating. New upgrades are rolled out seamlessly and nearly instantaneously.

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