Google Scholar and Academic Research

What is the relationship between the library and Google Scholar?

Google identifies the resources but the library at U of T makes them available.

Google Scholar is a great resource for identifying academic and scholarly resources in a wide range of electronic collections.  It may seem seamless to link to those resources through Google Scholar but did you know that the library is in fact the resource that makes this linkage possible?  We are fortunate at U of T to have the extensive array of digital resources that that the library has purchased for our use.  The library has registered with Google to make those resources available to you through my.access, directly from the Google Scholar link.  To make sure that Google Scholar recognizes you as a U of T user go to http://scholar.google.ca/scholar_settings?sciifh=1&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5 and register.

Is everything on Google Scholar?

It seems like everything is findable when you do a search and then receive an overwhelming number of results but in reality this is not the case.

Of course you will not find anything that is in print only and it is important to remember that print publications are still an important source of information. As an example, only a portion of the Supreme Court Law Review, one of Canada’s leading law journals is online.

You will not find links to material exclusively available on a propriety database like QuickLaw/LexisNexis or WestlawNext. According to Google, “[s]horter articles, such as book reviews, news sections, editorials, announcements and letters, may or may not be included. Untitled documents and documents without authors are usually not included.”

In addition you will find that Google has a low indexing of some institutional repositories generally because of incompatibilities with the metadata tagging used.[1]

What is findable, is almost everything on the Internet that was born digital or has been digitized and made available online.

Google Scholar locates “…journal and conference papers, theses and dissertations, academic books, pre-prints, abstracts, technical reports and other scholarly literature from all broad areas of research.” Unfortunately its indexing is not selective and consequently predatory (or junk science) journals are likely to be included in the search results.[2] While this may be less of a problem with legal publishing it is, nevertheless, very important to verify the authority of the journals and authors being located.

Is using Google Scholar the most efficient approach to research?

That depends: for multidisciplinary research Google Scholar might be a good tool to use.

To be most efficient, especially when researching an unfamiliar topic Google Scholar reiterates the need to use conventional research tactics like consulting secondary resources to find the appropriate vocabulary or terminology with which to begin your search.

The advanced search gives you the options of searching for “all terms” or specific phrases and of excluding specific words anywhere within either the title or the article. You can also search by specific authors or journals and within specific date ranges. You cannot search by subject. Once search results are returned they can be sorted by date generally as well as be limited by a specific date or date range. There is no way to extract a particular material type like a book chapter or scholarly journal from the results.   These are the only options for refining a search. The alternative is to redo the search using additional or different search terms.

One really useful feature of Google Scholar is that you can link to the articles that cite the one that you are interested in as well as locate similar articles through the related articles link. In addition, citations are available in APA, MLA and Chicago style and can be exported to BibTeX, EndNote, RefMan or  RefWorks.

If, for example you were looking for information on the impact of war on the human rights of women in international law since the year 2000…

A search for “armed conflict” war and women’s human rights yielded 17,400 results sorted by relevance and frequency of citation.  There is no option searching for “armed conflict or war,” so both terms need to be searched. Adding international law to the search yields 100 additional resources bringing the total up to 17500.

Compare this with a similar search in Summon (“armed conflict” or war and women’s human rights) which searches the full text of all resources available through the University of Toronto.  This search reveals 2,440 results and can be further refined by selecting various facets from the menu including or excluding specific terms from a vocabulary list. Limiting the search to include international law provides a quite manageable list of 244 scholarly works.

This comparison shows while Google Scholar will locate many materials, its search mechanism is still not complex enough to do precision searching.   The best approach to using Google Scholar is to locate a specific article or the works of a specific author and then use the Related Articles link to expand your search to find more materials on topic.

[1] Kenning Arlitsch and Patrick O’Brien “Invisible Institutional Repositories” Library Hi Tech Vol 30 issue 1 p 60-81

[2] Google Scholar is filled with junk science < http://scholarlyoa.com/2014/11/04/google-scholar-is-filled-with-junk-science/ >

One Response to Google Scholar and Academic Research

  1. One further use case that is not mentioned though is to use Google Scholar to quickly retrieve an article that is referenced by another article. Google Scholar allows searching via a URL scheme (“http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q={query}”) and thus allows quick retrieval of content of databases such as Jstor or Hein Online by simply acting on your search query. If you use it on a tool that can pass text selection from any application on your computer to a search URL, you are finding and downloading cited articles in no time. You can see an example here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/366500/Screencast%20Import%20Publication.mov

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