Are you interested in contributing to HLWIKI International? contact Google scholar provides advanced search capability which is only marginally better than its main search page
To browse other articles on a range of HSL topics, see the A-Z index.
- 20 March 2014
See also Bibliometrics | EBooks | Google Drive | Google scholar metrics | Google scholar bibliography | Microsoft Academic Search | Web 2.0
Google scholar has its own e-alerting feature for articles added to the database
Google scholar was released in 2004 and has established itself as a "go to" search tool for students and scholars worldwide to locate online peer-reviewed articles, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports. In terms of its functionality, Google scholar might best be described as a browsing tool not a literature search database or interface. In 2012, Gray et al (2012) said that "Google scholar's value" may be how "useful [it is] for initial & supplemental information gathering". Compared to curated databases such as Medline, Google scholar offers part of what librarians expect to see in a search tool or interface but is, on its own, inadequate for most searching in medicine (Giustini, 2013).
Google scholar's ease-of-use and convenience is obvious but is essentially a dumbed-down version of what an abstracting and index (A&I) service should be, and equal only to some tasks. Google scholar is allied to the search power of Google and that's a very powerful reason to use it. GS is especially useful in locating known items. Google has digital spiders that crawl password-protected and subscription-based websites (of hitherto uncrawled materials) every day, identifying authors and titles of papers in the grey literature. For those doing systematic review searching, it would be inconceivable to search the web without Google scholar. Google's spiders also help to establish linkages between two otherwise disconnected or unknown articles. Consequently, GS hits the search sweet spot for many researchers trying to locate a few good articles for journal club or continuing education. Google is adding articles and content from Google Books – another reason users find it indispensable in their research.
In early 2013, BioMedCentral published a paper entitled Is the coverage of Google Scholar enough to be used alone for systematic reviews? The article is timely and asks a good relevant focussed question. The abstract is clear enough about their aims. However, when you look beyond the abstract there are some semantic problems and problems with methodology. First, keyword searches for "erythropoietin" and "darbepoetin" combined with cancer yields = 100% recall/ precision of 0.1% (36,630 articles found, for 36 articles). Are the authors suggesting that researchers consider a precision level of .1% acceptable for the SR? Second, they don't extend their logic to other searches (generalizability). In other words, the articles are "indexed" in GS but the authors don't address the problem of finding them. Just because articles are in a database doesn't necessarily mean you will find them. In the meantime, the search itself isn't reproducible (the third problem).
"...For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance..." — Matthew, 25:29 (See Matthew effect vis a vis Google scholar ranking algorithm)
Many years after its beta release and debates among librarians about its usefulness, Google scholar (GS) continues to be viewed as controversial. Its ease-of-access and simple interface make it extremely popular among academics. What are the main reasons, and what can librarians learn from asking these questions? For one, the interface is familiar, classic Google. GS links to 20 million books and hard to locate materials. Its size is probably more than one (1) billion documents making it the largest search tool ever conceived for scholarly searching.
GS is useful for locating peer-reviewed content and grey literature produced by government and other agencies. GS includes Elsevier journals, JSTOR and many other publishers. GS is comparable to CiteSeer and has most content found in other open search tools. GS points to more websites, journals and languages than any competitor. As such, it is useful (some say ideal) for browsing and pre-searching. Its tagline - "Stand on the shoulders of giants" - is a nod to scientists who have contributed to the scholarly literature. American LIS professor, Peter Jacso, is the most cited academic writing about Google scholar. Since Google Scholar weights citation counts highly in its ranking algorithm, it is criticized for strengthening the so-called Matthew effect. In other words, highly cited papers appear first in search results, and thus gain more citations while new papers don't appear highly and therefore get less attention.
In 2010, Anurag Acharya created the Google scholar blog and wrote his first post. His team at Google scholar post periodically about changes to the search tool.
GS provides easy searchability in classic Google fashion -- pop in a few keywords and start browsing. GS locates born digital content and points to articles online and on library shelves (see library links). Its "All versions" feature provides access to free-fee fulltext (preprints and early drafts) and its handy "Cited by" feature links to articles that cite the one being viewed. "Related articles" presents lists of closely-related articles and ranks them. In response to the release of Microsoft's Academic Search tool, an importing feature was included for RefWorks, Reference Manager, EndNote and BibTeX (see citing). GS also added a pull-down menu in the search display to limit searches to a range of years. US legal opinions and cases were made searchable in 2010 using the appropriate radio buttons on the front page; e-mail alerts are also available from the results display.
Pluses & minuses
- same search operators and "limits" as in Mother Google (see Google commands)
- easy to search for academic journals and grey literature
- patents, legal opinions and law journals are searchable; e-mail alerts can be set up
- some papers are only available to subscribers (unless open access)
- citations are determined to be scholarly by Google (not by scholars or librarians)
- total # of journals and coverage is unknown; many scholarly journals are not indexed
- cannot do proper, structured literature reviews because there is no "history"
- more coverage in sciences than humanities
- older material ranked higher, usually
- "Cited by" (citation searching) is useful but numbers may be inflated compared to Scopus or Web of Science
- sorting, browsing and exporting all citations at the same time are not available
Searching for Canadian content
- Limiting to Canadian materials only is not possible; using site:ca command limits results to Canadian sites means that relevant results may be missed.
- Another way to retrieve Canadian articles is by using the journal name to limit results. In Advanced Search, add can OR canada OR canadian to the publication box. However, this string will return not just journal articles but other materials as well. Moreover, the search will omit any Canadian articles that do not have “Canada” or “Canadian” in their name and articles where Canadian is abbreviated (e.g. CBLJ).
- In searching for articles in specific subject domains, limit to specific journals; ensure you include all ways the journal may be cited. Google does not allow you to truncate search terms.
- The 'intitle: operator limits to “Canada” or “Canadian” in the title (e.g. intitle:canada OR intitle:canadian) and is not recommended. Although scholarly material in Google Scholar is international, there is an American bias but there are enough Canadian resources to make it worthwhile.
Some searchers consider GS of comparable value to commercial databases despite remaining in beta, and others say it is hampered by poor design and quality control. When searching for items based on publication dates, for example, results are inflated and unreliable. Other features such as the citation tracking numbers are inflated, sometimes as much as 50%. The number of articles found in some searches increases instead of decreases when limiting to specific year ranges (ie. 2000-2006). Some critics say that GS has a counterintuitive presentation of results. The longstanding problem here is the secrecy about GS' coverage and refusal to publish the names of journals it crawls. Consequently, it is impossible to know how current or exhaustive your searches are. Where searches do not have to achieve high levels of recall, GS finds favour with those who need a few articles and who want their searching to be on the open web and as simple as possible.
User-friendly as a browsing tool
GS is an ideal vehicle for browsing the academic side of the web. Several librarians have studied its potential as a research tool with the general conclusion that it cannot compete with the power and flexibility of interfaces such as OvidSP or EBSCO. Some librarians ask what content can be retrieved from GS but Google has never released this information - librarians are therefore left to make educated guesses about its coverage. The consensus seems to be that GS is not as current or comprehensive as other tools such as PubMed but it offers a quick and complementary view of findable materials. Being aware of its strengths and weaknesses and advanced search capabilities will help health librarians learn when to recommend it to users.
Google scholar results display
- Step I: type in http://scholar.google.com
- Step II: Enter two specific words describing what you want to find: hit search
- Step III: browse' results
- Enter up to 32 words (used to be 10).
- Remember default is AND e.g. heart failure retrieves heart AND failure (no need to type AND)
- type in "heart failure" to force a phrase search
- Use OR to find related or synonymous terms
- e.g. surgery AND dental OR dentistry OR dentist
- Exclude words causing problems with a minus sign e.g. clinton hospital -president
- Add terms to searches e.g. clinton hospital umass OR massachusetts
- Results based on terms, then ranks them according to:
- word frequency (how many times query words appear in each document),
- word order (first terms in query are given greater weight),
- word proximity (how close terms are to each other),
- word location (e.g. in title or heading)
- PageRank (Google's link popularity algorithm based on how many other pages link to this one similar to cited reference searching) among other complex statistical algorithms
See also NNLM Super Searcher: Enhancing Your Online Search Super Powers
In head-to-head comparisons, a new search tool called FindZebra outperforms Google. The developers at FindZebra have created specialized functionalities exploiting medical ontological information and UMLS medical concepts to demonstrate different ways of displaying the retrieved results to medical experts. FindZebra is available at http://www.findzebra.com/
See Google scholar bibliography As of July 2013, — 168 articles in total)
- Aguillo I. Is Google scholar useful for bibliometrics? A webometric analysis. Scientometrics. 2012;91(2):343-351.
- Banks MA. The excitement of Google scholar, the worry of Google Print. Biomed Digit Libr. 2005;2(1):2.
- Bramer WM, Giustini D, Kramer BM, Anderson P. The comparative recall of Google Scholar versus PubMed in identical searches for biomedical systematic reviews: a review of searches used in systematic reviews. Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 23;2(1):115.
- Burright M. Google scholar: science & technology. Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship. 2006 Winter.
- Delgado-López-Cózar E, Cabezas-Clavijo A. Google scholar metrics: an unreliable tool for assessing scientific journals. El Profesional de la Informacion. 2012;21(4):419-17.
- Duran-Nelson A, Gladding S, Beattie J. Should we Google it? resource use by internal medicine residents for point-of-care clinical decision making. Acad Med. 2013.
- Gardner S, Eng S. Gaga over Google? Scholar in the social sciences. Library Hi Tech News. 2005;22(8):42–5.
- Giustini D, Boulos MNK. Google scholar is not enough to be used alone for systematic reviews. OJPHI. 2013 July;5(2).
- Giustini D, Barsky E. A look at Google scholar, PubMed, and Scirus: comparisons and recommendations. JCHLA / JABSC. 2005;26(3):85–9.
- Gray JE, Hamilton MC, Hauser A. Scholarish: Google Scholar and its value to the sciences. Iss Sci Tech Libr. 2012;70.
- Henderson J. Google scholar: a source for clinicians? CMAJ. 2005 Jun 7;172(12):1549–50.
- Jacsó P. The pros and cons of computing the h-index using Google scholar for F. W. Lancaster. Online Information Review. 2008;32(3):437-452.
- Jacsó P. Testing the calculation of a realistic h-index in Google scholar, Scopus, and Web of Science. Library Trends. 2008;56(4):784-815.
- Jacsó P. Google scholar revisiteds. Online Info Rev. 2008;32(1):102-114
- Jacsó P. Google scholar (Redux). Peter’s Digital Reference Shelf. 2005 June
- Jacsó P. Google scholar: the pros and the cons. Online Info Rev. 2005;29(2):208–14.
- Jacsó P. As we may search: comparison of major features of the Web of Science, Scopus, & Google scholar citation-based & citation-enhanced databases. Curr Sci. 2005;89(9):1537-47.
- Jacsó P. Comparison and analysis of the citedness scores in Web of Science and Google scholar. Lec Notes Comp Sci. 2005;3815:360-9.
- Jacsó P. Google scholar and the Scientist (October 2005)
- Jacsó P. Savvy searching - Google scholar: The pros and the cons. Online Information Review. 2005;29(2):208-214.
- Jean-François G, Laetitia R, Stefan D. Is the coverage of google scholar enough to be used alone for systematic reviews. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2013 Jan 9;13(1):7.
- Matthew EF, Eleni IP, George AM, Georgios P. Comparison of PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google scholar: strengths and weaknesses. FASEB 2008;22:338-42.
- Mayr P, Walter A. An exploratory study of Google scholar. E-Prints in Library and Information Science. 2007 Aug 21.
- Macneily A. Paging dr. Google. Can Urol Assoc J. 2013 Mar;7(3-4):106-7.
- Mullen LB, Hartman KA. Google scholar and the library Web site: the early response by ARL libraries. College and Research Libraries. 2006 Mar;67(2):106–22.
- Neuhaus E, Neuhaus C, Asher A, Wrede C. The depth and breadth of Google scholar: an empirical study. Libraries and the Academy. 2006;(2):127–41.
- Notess GR. Scholarly Web searching: Google scholar and Scirus. Online 2005;29(4):39–41.
- Pickard KT. Impact of open access and social media on scientific research. J Participat Med. 2012 Jul 18;4:e15.
- Pomerantz J. Google scholar and 100% availability of information. Information Technology and Libraries. 2006;25(1):52-6.
- Ripple AS. Expert googling: best practices and advanced strategies for using Google in health sciences libraries. Med Ref Serv Q. 2006;25(2):97-107.
- Sadeh T. Google scholar versus metasearch systems. High Energy Physics Libraries Webzine. 2006 Feb;12.
- Schroeder R. Pointing users toward citation searching: using Google scholar and Web of Science. Libraries and the Academy. 2007;7(2):243-8.
- Shultz M. Comparing test searches in PubMed and Google scholar. J Med Libr Assoc. 2007;95(4):442–5.
- Vine R. Google scholar. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006;94(1):97–9.