Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Google Scholar - What's the Buzz?

Google ScholarGoogle Scholar (GS) is an exciting new development by; its goal is to “help users search scholarly literature such as peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports.” The O’Neill Reference staff recently took a look at Google Scholar and tested it against some of our subscription databases. Below is a summary of our discoveries and some recommendations.


What's being searched


The emphasis of GS is on providing access to “peer-reviewed” literature, so content is primarily journal articles and books. Preprint servers are also searched, sometimes resulting in retrieval of multiple versions of a document. Other “research material” that you might expect to find does not appear, presumably because it is not peer-reviewed (e.g. annual reports, patents). Occasionally the results of your search might include non-scholarly (or less scholarly) materials such as poster sessions, symposium presentation schedules, and pamphlets.


Publishers have the option of whether to participate in Google Scholar or not by allowing GS’s web-crawler to search their web site and permit abstracts to be displayed for their journals. Sometimes you will find a major publisher represented only because its journals are being cited in other publishers' pages; their journals are not indexed in GS (e.g. The American Chemical Society journals). Unlike the subscription databases where you can get detailed information about the contents of the database, GS does not provide a list of participating publishers.


Searching GS


Google Scholar has an advanced search option that permits you to limit your search by author, publication or date, but traditional databases usually provide many more options to refine your search according to the needs of the discipline.


In GS, when choosing your search terms, remember that there is no standardization of terminology; however, there is often a link to the definition of a term, offering synonyms and other helpful suggestions. For best results, be sure to enter variations of your terms, e.g. Journal of the American Medical Association (4,900 articles retrieved) and JAMA (34,800 articles retrieved).


Google Scholar searches in the same way that regular Google does; it will retrieve all results that featured your keyword regardless of context.  For example, a search for “Beowulf”, the 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem, returns many results on Beowulf computer clusters.  To get better results try adding search terms or click on the definition of the term in the upper right section of the web page for additional help.




Most GS results contain citations to books and journals. A nice feature of GS is that book results often have a link showing which libraries own a particular title. The links for journal articles vary; you may get a citation or the full text. Some articles are available for free on the internet.

Sometimes you will get seamless access to the full text in GS because of a subscription paid by the Boston College Libraries; other times you may not be able to access articles we own except by going through the libraries’ gateway. If you can not view the full text through GS, check the Boston College Libraries’ online catalog, Quest, to see if the library has an electronic or print copy. If an article is not available in the library, use Interlibrary Loan to request a free copy.


The Library is investigating the use of the Firefox browser and a Firefox extension for Google Scholar. This will result in the Find It option displaying and providing links to resources available via the Boston College Libraries.


A few examples of discipline-specific search results

  • Psychology – A search on obesity and children’s self esteem in GS retrieved information that was not found in PscyINFO or Web of Science databases. A substantial amount of that information was in various foreign languages. The number of times an article has been cited was more current in GS than in the two traditional databases.
  • Chemistry – Searching on concept terms (“asymmetric catalysis”) in GS produced adequate retrieval, but chemical name searching required inclusion of various synonyms for more comprehensive results. The serious under-representation of American Chemical Society journals is of even greater concern. SciFinder Scholar does a far superior job all around.
  • Physics – “Nanotechnology” searching provided very strong results, owing to the wide participation of the major physics publishers in Google Scholar.
  • Business – GS contained many citations to scholarly business topics. Materials such as financial ratios, market share and annual reports are not in Google Scholar; although they are available in regular
  • Classics – Searching for “Homer and Ilium ” produced some very good sources. It also located several “articles” which seem to be college papers.


When to use GS


In general we would suggest starting your research in one of the libraries’ databases because you can select a subject database specific to your topic and you can refine your search better. We would recommend using Google Scholar as a supplement to the libraries' resources. If you need help with your research please contact a reference librarian. There are many materials available in GS that the library does not own. Please remember that if you find citations in GS and need to obtain the full text, the library staff can help you. Please feel free to contact us.


For more information, please consult:

Google Scholar Focuses on Research-Quality Content by Barbara Quint (Information Today, November 22, 2004)


Google in the Academic Library: undergraduates may find all they want on Google Scholar by Carol Tenopir (Library Journal, February 1, 2005)


Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah, Manager of Instructional Services

Sally Wyman, Reference Librarian

Sonia Ensins, Reference Librarian

John Walsh, Reference Librarian


Questions, comments? Contact the BC Libraries Newsletter Review Board.
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