Over the last few years, the usefulness of Google Scholar has really improved. I used it when updating a literature review recently (I’m cool, I know) and was pleased with how easy it was to use. I did find credible resources during this process, too.
But, is it as credible as other databases? Unfortunately it’s not that simple: Google Scholar’s purpose and function are just different from other databases. Google Scholar intends to be a place for researchers to start. As their “About” page says: Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature.
The way Google Scholar indexes or collects its information is different from other databases, too. “Scholarly” databases usually index articles on specific disciplines or topics, with certain journals being included on purpose. Basically, they’re created by people. Google Scholar, like regular Google, is created by a computer: Google’s “robots” scan different webpages for scholarly material, with less care going into the journals that publish these articles.
What you’re probably looking for is a straight answer. If I had to give you one, I’d say go ahead and use Google Scholar. It can be helpful when you’re starting the research process on a topic, it finds credible journal articles, and it often turns up stuff you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Make sure to use it, though, in combination with other subject-specific databases.
One more thing: if you’re wondering whether you should use Google Scholar over Summon, I would recommend sticking with Summon. While Google Scholar has great benefits, Summon will only bring up articles that you have access to. This means you won’t have to do as much poking around to find the full-text of articles as you would with Google Scholar.
For more information, I’ve put together a pros and cons list for Google Scholar.
- Only credible, scholarly material is included in Google Scholar, according to the inclusion criteria: “content such as news or magazine articles, book reviews, and editorials is not appropriate for Google Scholar.” Technical reports, conference presentations, and journal articles are included, as are links to Google Books.
- This database is a citation index, meaning you can search the number of times an article has been cited by other people. This is a function of many credible databases.
- Google Scholar is interdisciplinary, meaning you are searching a huge range of topics all at once. You get different search results this way than you’d find in traditional databases, as a result.
- You can find A LOT more material using Google Scholar than some other databases (not all).
- It’s easy to use because it’s familiar.
- It rarely finds all of the reliable material that “scholarly” databases do, and it sometimes misses really important articles: studies comparing Google Scholar with PsycINFO, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and more found that Google Scholar was unable to produce all of the articles listed in the scholarly databases. This means you can’t rely on Google Scholar alone.
- Computer errors are more common with Google Scholar because it isn’t maintained by people: broken links, repetitive results, and other issues are more likely with this database than others.
- It still says “beta” even though it’s been on the market for years. This is odd, and potentially indicates that Google Inc. realizes there are problems with the product.
- It may not offer any more benefits than Summon does, through Brescia and Western Libraries.
Sources: Google Scholar Bibliography.