Google Scholar – the pros and cons
What you really SHOULD know about it…………….
1. What is Google Scholar?
Google Scholar is a new free Web service that finds papers,
theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from
broad areas of research. It searches a variety of academic
publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and
universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.
It is in the beta testing phase of development.
2. What’s so good about it?
It’s fast (leads to hundreds of relevant, scholarly articles
within seconds), it’s free with no username/password issues
It looks like regular Google with a simple interface
A significant amount of the content is available in full-text –
it’s always worth checking to see if an article you want can
Searches the indexes created from the full text or part of
the full text of the primary documents, not merely the
bibliographic records, abstracts and the subject terms.
Searching is as simple as searching on the main Google page.
Multiple database search is the default approach, but you
can also specify the publisher by using its URL in the site
parameter eg tsunami site:ieee.org. It does allow the use of
quotation marks to search phrases, and the ‘minus’ sign to
eliminate specific terms. There is an Advanced Search
Certain publishers have granted Google the ability to access
material not available before. Google has agreements with
some reputable publishers like Blackwell to index their
It has a ‘cited’ section allowing you to see how many times
the item has been cited (could be useful when evaluating the
source). The number given in the ‘cited by’ link is the
number of cached documents that cite the linked document.
You can click on this link to bring up a page of the cited
references. The citations are used to some degree in
determining the ranking of search results
3. What concerns are there about using it?
Not all information contained in Google Scholar is
necessarily ‘scholarly’ (in the traditional sense). The Google
algorithm makes a calculated ‘guess’ at what it thinks is
scholarly. Full disclosure of the publishers and sources
worked with to create it are not provided – NO information
about the publishers archives that Google is allowed to
search is given, let alone specific journals and host sites.
The content of search results varies widely, often random
The indexing of the collected files is limited to the first
100-120 Kbytes of the text (depending on file type). If the
search term occurs just beyond Google’s limit the item
would not be found.
The indexed articles are a much smaller subset of scholarly
articles than can be found in many other subscription
databases eg Web of Science, GeoRef
Eg. A search through google for tsunami in the title field
limited to the site of the Nature Publishing Group gives just
one record; through the native search engine there are 8
records, all relevant. It has been shown that Google Scholar
only finds about 10-30% of the records which are available
using sophisticated, but still intuitive native search engines.
Comparing regular Google and Google scholar demonstrates
the issue of how often the database is refreshed – a
Science Express article published online on June 16 was
searched for via google scholar on July 5 – no results; on
regular google the citation was available. No sign of it on
google scholar until July 25.
Search options are very limited – a simple keyword search
approach on Google cannot match the sophisticated search
options of subscription databases. The ability to focus your
search is not easy. First names and initials are searchable
when using ‘author’; but results are often erratic
There is often more than one version of the paper available
in the results; sometimes earlier (preprint) versions,
Chances are you won’t be able to read it even if you find
something that looks to be of interest – full-text access is
only available if we subscribe to it. Google Scholar won’t tell
you this. It includes links to citations and abstracts on
journal sites that request payment – in the meantime you
could get them for free from the Library’s resources
No information is available yet to tell how often the
database is being refreshed with new material.
Copyright issues have yet to be settled
Be aware and be critical – don’t assume that the articles are
‘scholarly’; exercise judgment about the articles you use. Relying
on any single source, even one that is as fast as Google Scholar is
not recommended. Rigorous academic research requires thorough
searching across databases, varying search strategies, including
synonyms, alternate spellings, and using appropriate subject
headings. Web of Knowledge (giving access to the Science
Citation Index), for example, provides a much more
comprehensive, retrospective and timely form of access to
Our advice is only to use Google Scholar alongside controlled
Name of first
author in incorrect.
Correct name – is Rawls
Libby Tilley & Sarah Humbert
Earth Sciences Library