If you’re a scholar performing academic research, you will have come across Google Scholar at some point. Google’s separate search engine dedicated to scholarly works contains a wealth of information. And a lot of it is freely accessible as well!

But sometimes, such a wealth of information can be a bit, well, overwhelming. There’s just so much information available on Google Scholar – how do you go about finding what is right for you? And how to use Google Scholar in the first place?

These are some of the questions you can find the answers to in the article below. We will walk you through the basics of using Google Scholar data for your academic research.

Whether you’re completely new to Google Scholar or curious to learn more about its full potential, we’re here to help. Time to do some research!

What is Google Scholar?

Google Scholar is a search engine specifically aimed at scholarly literature.

Technically classed as a bibliographic database, it allows users to search through its massive index of scholarly literature gathered from across the web. As such, it works in the same way as you would use Google’s normal search engine.

The index contains all sorts of scholarly data, from online academic journals to theses and dissertations, from patents to technical reports.

According to a 2018 research published in Scientometrics, the size of Google Scholar’s extensive database was estimated at over 389 million unique documents, which makes it the largest search engine for academic work in the world.

Google Scholar’s slogan is borrowed from Barnard of Chartres, stating to “stand on the shoulders of giants.” The quote here refers to all the scholars of the past who, with their works, form the foundation of the scholars of today.

How to use Google Scholar

Google Scholar works very similar to Google Search. You type in your search query (e.g., “web scraping”), press enter, and Google Scholar will present a list of search results.

The search results will include slightly different information compared to your average Google search results. For example, the title of the result is often preceded by a description of the type of document. Examples include [BOOK] and [PDF].

The results also include information like the name of the author, the number of available versions, or how often that specific work has been cited by others.

Just like with Google Search, each result will link through to a different website. As such, Google Scholar itself doesn’t contain any documents itself; it merely is a searchable database retrieving and indexing data from across the world wide web.

Google Scholar for academic research

There are many ways in which Google Scholar can benefit academic research. Current estimates suggest that Google Scholar’s database contains over 90% of all academic work available online. This makes it the perfect place to start your search for relevant scholarly articles.

A lot of the information Google Scholar links to is free to access. In fact, recent research published in 2018 in the Journal of Informetrics found that about half (55%) of the content on Google Scholar is free to access.

To gather all the data they needed for their academic research, the research team built a web scraper themselves. If you’re looking for a similar option but do not want to build a scraper yourself, you can check out this Google Scholar API instead.

Aside from this free data, a lot of the search results showing up on Google Scholar will direct you to publisher websites or repositories that require a monthly fee or one-off payment. These sites often provide a short abstract of the document so you know what you can expect. This way, you can decide whether it’s worth paying for.

Another fun fact about Google Scholar is that you can use it to find both online and offline publications.

Say you search for a term and there is a book written about that particular subject. Google Scholar might direct you to a scanned version of the book on another subsection of Google, Google Books. However, not every book is available on Google Books.

Instead, it can also direct you to the specific library closest to your geographical location that has the book you’re looking for in stock. In other words, instead of browsing through your local library’s inventory, you can just use Google Scholar to find the books for you!

A wealth of knowledge at your fingertips

Google Scholar has so much information to offer for scholars and casual knowledge-gatherers alike. Aside from the options mentioned above, it provides a lot of different filters and functionalities to help you narrow down your search and only obtain the data you need.

For example, you can filter by the year of publication, search specific authors, set up alerts for new research related to specific topics of interest, or star research for it to be added to your personal library.

If you need to perform academic research, there simply isn’t a source quite like Google Scholar.