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Stellenbosch University – How Google Scholar Works

Stellenbosch University – How Google Scholar Works

What is Google Scholar good for?

With Google Scholar you can search across many disciplines and sources for scholarly literature.

The Stellenbosch University Library licenses the content in the e-journals cited by Google Scholar and makes it available via authentication. You may be able to find material through Google Scholar, but you can only access it through the library and the library’s subscriptions.

Searching through Google Scholar for articles on a specific topic is sort of like using the Stellenbosch Library’s journal search.

Ways that Google Scholar is useful:

  • It can help a beginning researcher identify journal titles and authors connected with subjects of interest.
  • It may be useful for finding “grey literature” like conference proceedings. It includes many articles that wouldn’t get included in other indexing services.
  • It can be useful for locating obscure references that are proving difficult to find in conventional databases.
  • It provides access to books and articles in a single search.
  • It can be very helpful in locating more information on partial citations.

What is Google Scholar NOT good for?

  • With a Google Scholar search you cannot:
    • search by peer review
    • sort/search by disciplinary field
    • browse by title
    • limit search results
  • You may get a long list of results, but you will only have access to the text of articles that the Stellenbosch University Library has paid subscriptions for.
  • You can’t easily see what’s included in Google Scholar: results will be articles, websites, essays from organizations, even PowerPoint presentations!
  • It is difficult to determine with 100% accuracy all that Google Scholar searches. Therefore, we do not know the breadth of what Google Scholar is indexing and consequently cannot judge the comprehensiveness or completeness of the results of a literature search.
  • We cannot tell how frequently items in Google Scholar are updated.
  • Searching in Google Scholar is imprecise when compared with discipline-specific databases.

Are you using Google Scholar effectively?

How to incorporate Google Scholar into your research

Google Scholar searches specifically for scholarly materials such as journal articles, research reports, dissertations and theses, preprints, technical reports, patents, manuscripts in preparation, working papers and many other document types.

When you do a search in Google Scholar, you get a list of citations. You’ll get links to the full text if the Stellenbosch University Library Service subscribes to the journal title, if it’s from an open access journal, or if the researcher posted the article on her/his website.

Ask yourself a few questions about Google Scholar:

  • When would I use this tool?
  • What features does it have to help me get relevant results?
  • What does this tool do well?
  • What does it do poorly?

We don’t really know how Google Scholar indexes items, but this is how Google Scholar defines the weighting system:

Google Scholar aims to sort articles the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each article, the author, the publication in which the article appears, and how often the piece has been cited in other scholarly literature. The most relevant results will always appear on the first page. (http://scholar.google.com/intl/en/scholar/about.html)

Remember, Google’s goal is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but researchers need to learn to critically evaluate research materials.

Google does not search the deep web (aka Deepnet, invisible web or hidden web). These terms refer to World Wide Web content that is not part of the surface Web indexed by search engines. It is estimated that the deep Web is several orders of magnitude larger than the surface Web (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_web). The hidden web is estimated to be 500 times larger than the surface web.

Google Scholar Handout


A downloadable handout with tips and tricks for using Google.

Searching in Google Scholar

A few tips for searching in Google Scholar:

  • Try to only use first initials when searching for author names. Many articles only include the first initial of the author.
  • Use the “author:” operator, e.g., author:”d knuth” or author:”donald e knuth”. See our Advanced Search Tips for more information
  • Abbreviations of journal names are often used, e.g. J Biol Chem rather than Journal of Biological Chemistry.
  • To search for a specific paper, put the paper’s title in quotations: “A History of the China Sea.”
  • Keep in mind that Google Scholar gathers bibliographical data from text and citations, (including pre-prints, which may include incomplete information). Often, when searching in Google Scholar less is more.
  • Boolean operators (+ or -) are available, but not truncation.
  • It is not possible to sort by date. If you want to find recent papers, select the date range from the dropdown menu labeled anytime under the search box. You can also receive newly added search results by email. To sign up for email updates, do a search as usual and click on the envelope icon on the green bar.
  • To search for papers in specific publications: Within the Advanced Search page, you can specify keywords which must appear in both the article and the publication name. See the Google Scholar Advanced Search Tips for more information.
  • To search by category: From the Advanced Search page, you can search for scholarly literature within several broad areas of research. You can also limit your search to legal opinions and journals.
google scholar advance search
google scholar advance search


find articles


Adapted from:
Google Scholar Help http://scholar.google.com/intl/en/scholar/help.html and
Advanced Search Tips http://scholar.google.com/intl/en/scholar/refinesearch.html

Finding Articles

Once you find an article that you want to read, you’ll see several links that may be helpful to you. Here’s what they mean:

  • “Cited By” will show you a list of works that cited this article.
  • “Related Articles” will direct you to articles on the same or a similar subject.
  • “Full-Text@Stellenbosch” will direct you to library databases that contain the article.

Google scholar - Finding articles

  • Click on More and then on Cite for examples on how to cite this item according to different bibliographic styles.
  • Click the envelope icon (on the left of the results) to have new results periodically delivered by email.

Stellenbosch University – How Google Scholar Works


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