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Library Guides

Google Scholar: Overview

About Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a search engine for scholarly information including:

  • journal and conference papers
  • academic books
  • pre-prints and post-prints
  • abstracts
  • theses and dissertations
  • technical reports from governments and other organisations
  • court opinions and patents
  • references to printed books and journal articles

 

How does Google Scholar compare to Library Search?

Despite the name, unfortunately not all content found on Google Scholar is scholarly. It is recommended that you start your searching using Library Search, because results will be limited to academic content only, and to that which you can access full-text. To search beyond our collection, click the "Expand my results" box to the left of the search results. You can also personalise your search by selecting up to five disciplines, whereas Google Scholar does not allow searching by subject area. Library Search also allows much more refined filtering of your search results, e.g. by resource type, subject or author.

Library Search has icons which indicate if an item is open access, and if an article has been peer reviewed. The E-resources tab has a greater range of specialist information including statistics, financial information, films, images and maps which you won't be able to find via Google Scholar.

Although material found in Google Scholar is usually more suitable for study or research, you still need to assess the quality of the information for yourself. More guidance on evaluating sources is available on the study skills webpage and for more detailed information on how to use Library Search, see the Library Search Guide.

Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Fast and easy to use, so you may find it easier to get started
  • Searches a wide range of scholarly outputs
  • Useful for finding grey literature such as conference proceedings and reports
  • Automatically includes scholarly works from Google Books
  • Supports searching in any language
  • Can do forward citation tracking
  • Can set up alerts for searches 

Cons:

  • Coverage is incomplete and variable across disciplines
  • Includes results you won't have access to
  • Not everything in Google Scholar is scholarly – results can include PowerPoint presentations and unscholarly documents as well as articles from predatory journals
  • Uses an algorithm to make a calculated guess at what is scholarly, and it is not known how it determines what to include
  • Cannot do backward citation tracking – use Web of Science instead
  • Advanced searching is limited 
  • Citations data are unreliable

Remember that one search will not find everything  so for best results also use Library Search and databases recommended for your subject (find these in your subject-specific LibGuide).

Glossary

Forward citation tracking: finding works that cite an original work 

Backward citation tracking: finding the works cited by an original work

Predatory journal: a scam journal that charges a fee for the publication of articles without providing legitimate publication services 

Metadata: data that describes other data

Further guidance

Setting up an account

  1. Sign in with your University email address at the top right of the Google Scholar homepage
  2. Select the hamburger menu icon at the top left of the screen
  3. Select the gear icon for the Settings options
  4. From the list, select Library Links
  5. Search for University of Westminster and select it from the libraries listed, then save your selection
  6. Now when doing a search, you should get results from both the open internet and University of Westminster subscribed resources

For a visual tutorial, see the Setting up a library link iorad.

Google Scholar Button

Add the Google Scholar button as an extension to your browser. You can then look up resources as you browse the web by highlighting the text you want to search for and clicking the button. The top three links will be displayed in a pop-up box and you can click the fullscreen icon in the bottom left to see them all.

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