We recommend you use university search tools like FindIt@Bham and specialist bibliographic databases, but there are times when Google Scholar can be a useful tool. This guide looks the advantages and disadvantages of Google Scholar.
Google Scholar offers a freely available means of locating a wide variety of resources on the web including dissertations, conference papers and unpublished versions of articles but not all of this material is peer-reviewed. It is essential to evaluate all Google Scholar sources to make sure they are appropriate.
Google Scholar is a good starting point for your research because:
It uses the Google interface which is familiar to most people and easy to use.
Searches across all disciplines and a broad range of formats and types of information
Good for finding material which falls between disciplines
It searches only sites which contain scholarly works, although it is not clear how it defines this.
It is a large database, containing many different resources, so it is easy to find something quickly.
You can import references from Google Scholar into reference management packages like Endnote or RefWorks. However, this does not always work as well as it might and there are other subject specialist databases (e.g. Web of Science) where this process is more reliable.
It searches Open Access repositories (i.e. a place where research material is stored and whose contents are freely available to everyone).
It may be better at finding ‘grey literature’ (e.g. reports) which is not indexed in the subscription databases.
Can be linked to library holdings
Google Scholar should not be the only tool you use because:
It gives the impression of wider coverage than is actually the case. Some important publishers of academic journals are not included.
Publishers are reluctant to make their content freely available which restricts the scope of Google Scholar.
Google is a free service and uses software to index material rather than using people. This leads to inconsistencies in indexing, e.g. in the way authors are indexed. To search for Ian Andrew Smith you would therefore need to search for ‘I Smith’, ‘Ian A. Smith’, ‘Ian Andrew Smith’ as well as ‘IA Smith’.
It is not possible to search the indexes of the database to check spellings or the number of hits for a particular keyword.
It is not clear what Google Scholar’s coverage is in terms of dates and sources, or how frequently it is updated.
It is not even in its coverage of disciplines, for example science, technology and medicine are covered more comprehensively than business and the humanities.
It is better at finding more common material that is heavily used, but less successful at finding obscure or unusual material that can be of importance to researchers. This is due to the algorithms used in the relevance ranking of the results.
It is not possible to sort your results by author or journal name which many other databases allow.
Google Scholar primarily indexes electronically available material, so a researcher runs the risk of missing material only published in a printed format.