Tool Name: Google Scholar
Developer Website: http://scholar.google.com/
Reviewed by: Lauren Liebe
Review Date: 13 February 2013
Tags or Keywords: search, citation, bibliography, article, research
Review: Google Scholar is, as the name suggests, a version of Google that allows the user to search for scholarly articles. It compiles its list of articles in a similar fashion to the main Google website: through the use of search bots. In theory, this should make it a fairly comprehensive database of scholarly articles. How well does it work in practice, though? Well…it depends.
For the average user simply logging on at home, Google Scholar is quite limited. It can pull up a list of articles, but many of them link to subscription sites, such as JSTOR and Muse, that aren’t available to those without access from a public library. However, Google Scholar also searches through Google Books and a number of free websites as well, and can occasionally find PDFs of articles that are otherwise inaccessible without a subscription. It also provides citations for several non-digitized books. Through Google Scholar, it is possible to at least get an idea of what kind of material exists for a particular field by reading titles and abstracts of articles. Google Scholar also allows professionals to create a public profile and track their own citations.
With access to a library, however, Google Scholar becomes much more useful. If accessed from a library network, Google Scholar provides access to all of that library’s digital resources quickly and easily, often providing direct links to PDFs for articles. It is also possible for the user to save libraries to his or her personal settings, allowing these files to appear in the search results and be accessed via the library’s remote access protocols. Google Scholar is automatically set to search through Open WorldCat, though this can be disabled.
Google Scholar would certainly benefit from a more fully developed advanced search engine. Currently, the options include variations on searching for a particular phrase in various parts of the document, searching for a particular author, a particular journal, or a particular date range for publication. This requires the user to be rather specific with his or her search terms; for example, typing in “Othello” brings up primarily articles based in scientific or sociological studies, not related to the Shakespearean play. However, the ability to limit the publication range is useful for quickly getting a sense of current trends in publication on a specific subject.
There are a few major downsides to Google Scholar, however, and they are consistent complaints across many reviews of this tool. Since Google Scholar uses automated bots to create its metadata, rather than simply copying that of the databases it is pulling from, it can occasionally have some strange results. It also tends to display articles ranked by number of citations. In theory, this is useful, since it allows the user to see what works other scholars have found useful. Unfortunately, the citations displayed are not always accurate.
For users with library access doing quick preliminary research, Google Scholar is a pretty decent tool. Even without library access, it allows users to get a decent idea of what kind of research may be available through a larger institution. However, for serious research endeavors, Google Scholar is not recommended.
Ease of Use: Google Scholar is very easy to use (as easy as using Google itself, in most cases), but the results can be somewhat lacking, especially without library access.
Cost: The best part about Google Scholar is that it is completely free, though many of the articles it links to are not.
Requirements: Google Scholar only requires internet access. It seems to work equally well in most web browsers.
Rival or Comparable Tools: Web of Knowledge, Scopus (both of which require users to log in).