Is Google Scholar a reliable tool?

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Posted by Bijan Warner, community karma 153

Google Scholar offers a simple user interface and is open to the public, unlike many specialized research databases. Yet some scholars act as if Google Scholar is not a "serious" research tool. Is it reliable? And when should I use it?

In my experience, Google Scholar is not a replacement for other library research databases (those available through EBSCOhost, Web of Science, etc.). These have particular strengths, and are essential tools. Google Scholar is useful not only as a supplement to these, but also because it has its own particular strengths. One good use of Google Scholar is that it incorporats a ranking algorithm that can be helpful when you are learning a new field: for example, if you search for "economic sociology" in Google Scholar, the list returns pages of important and central texts to the subfield, so you can quickly get a sense of what is important. However, if you are already familiar with a subfield, this ranking algorithm can return pages of hits that are irrelevant to what you might be looking for. Another good use of Google Scholar is if you are doing more historical research: through agreements with University Libraries, Google has incorporated lots of journals dating from the early 20th century (and older) and applied OCR technology to make these fully searchable--many of which are not fully indexed (or indexed at all) in more traditional databases which have a more contemporary coverage. 

So my short answer is that Google Scholar is an important tool, but should not be the only search tool you use.

about 11 years ago

4 Comments

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Jessica Weinger, community karma 49

In my experience Google Scholar has been pretty helpful. For my undergrad, I did not have the option to link my school library to the search tool, but at my graduate school it is linked, so when I am looking for a specific article the process is totally streamlined. Search. Find at FIU. Done. It really couldn't be easier.

about 11 years ago
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Huong Le, community karma 241

I agree with Jessica. Google Scholar is great if you're looking for many articles at once (compiling a reading list perhaps?) and is a good way to do a quick search for related topics. I also like that I can search for articles that have cited a certain article.

about 11 years ago
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C. Sean Burns, community karma 149

Bijan, I agree with you. Google Scholar is one tool among many. We should take advantage of however many tools we can use to find what we need.

Jessica noted that some schools are able to link Google Scholar with their institutions. They do this through link resolver software. If you're not on campus but you have a campus VPN account, you can still use Google Scholar as Jessica describes. Huong highlighted Google Scholar's citation ability. In library and information science, some call following citations 'chaining.' Searching within citations and chaining are definite must haves for any bibliographic database.

As far as reliability, some find that Google Scholar is as strong as the heavy weights (e.g., Web of Knowlege and Scopus) [1 ; 2]. Others find that it's great at finding open access documents [3]. So I think it is a reliable tool, but perhaps more important is how we incorporate its use in our overall search strategies and our use of all the tools we have available.

[1] http://www.citeulike.org/user/seancsb/article/6358244

[2] http://www.citeulike.org/user/seancsb/article/7885999

[3] http://www.citeulike.org/user/seancsb/article/3904197

Other articles I've colleged on Google Scholar:

http://www.citeulike.org/user/seancsb/tag/google-scholar

about 11 years ago
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Danielle Wallace, community karma 145

Google Scholar is what I typically use. I haven't used an alternative search engine in a while. Why? Because as we lean more towards quantifing academia sucess, departments are relying on things like citation counts more. Google Scholar Citations more and more. If you don't pop up there, then they are unlikely to count it. I know my department has just said this one of the many things they will use to judge our tenurability (unfortunately).

about 11 years ago
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