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Google for Academic Research

Google Scholar

Google Scholar vs. Academic Databases

What's the difference between Google Scholar and an academic database Academic Search Complete or CINAHL?

Academic databases are searchable collections of published sources that let you know exactly what journals and books they are pulling their content from. Additionally, academic databases frequently have a subject specific focus and have many options for limiting search results.

Google Scholar is also a searchable collection of published sources, but because Google keeps their proprietary information private, they do not share where they are pulling their content from. We don't know exactly where the citations are coming from, what will be included, or what might be missing. Additionally, Google Scholar covers all disciplines and only has a few advanced search options.

Is Google Scholar right for my research?

Google Scholar can...

  • Help identify journal titles and authors associated with a subject area
  • Find "gray literature" like conference proceedings that aren't included in other indexing services
  • Locate obscure references and citation information

Google Scholar cannot...

  • Sort/search by disciplinary field
  • Limit search results
  • Find full text for all articles

Keep in Mind:

  • You may get a long list of results, but you will only have access to free (open access) articles.
  • Not everything in Google Scholar is scholarly. Google Scholar searches academic websites (.edu) as well as journals and publisher websites. Search results can include PowerPoints, news announcements, or unpublished materials. 
  • Searching in Google Scholar is imprecise when compared with discipline-specific databases.

How to incorporate Google Scholar into your research

Google Scholar searches specifically for scholarly materials such as journal articles, research reports, dissertations and theses, 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 in the following cases:

  • If it's from an open access journal
  • If the researcher posted the article on her/his website.

Advanced Search

Advanced Search Results

google scholar sidebar

Above, you'll notice that you will have to navigate to the three horizontal lines on the left side of the screen to access Google Scholar's advanced search features. By clicking on the "advanced search" link, a box will pop up with many options that will allow you to refine your search. This advanced search will allow you to sort by specific phrases, as well as authors and date ranges.

Advanced search options

Article Specifics

Once you are looking at a single result, there are a few options for the item. Some of these include:

  • The star feature will allow you to save an article in your library.
  • The quotation marks will give you a generated citation in the 5 most popular styles and options to import to several citation managers.
  • "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.