'What is Google Scholar?': What you need to know about Google's database for students, researchers, and other curious minds

Google Scholar is a searchable database of scholarly literature.

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured outside a Google office near the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dave Paresh/File Photo
  • It connects users with studies and journal articles, but that doesn't always mean you have free and full access to those articles. You might need a membership to read the full versions.
  • Google Scholar can be a valuable research tool, especially for those pursuing higher education.
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Established in 2004, Google Scholar is a massive database of scholarly literature that allows users to access information, cross reference it with other sources, and keep up with new research as it comes out.

Using Google Scholar, you can access these kinds of sources:

  • Journals
  • Conference papers
  • Academic books
  • Pre-prints
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Abstracts
  • Technical reports
  • Other scholarly literature from "all broad areas of research"

Here's more about the powerful research tool.

Anyone can access the search database. And while it's built with college or grad school students and other academics in mind it can help those writing academic papers create bibliographies more easily anyone can reap its benefits.

Here are just a few examples of what you can do through Google Scholar:

  • You can create a library of research around a topic of interest, like global warming, and create alerts for it so that you're always up-to-date on the latest research.
  • You can gain deeper knowledge around a complicated topic, like studies in field of astronomy that you're interested in.
  • You can research case law to build a deeper understanding of American politics and the Supreme Court.

Google Scholar itself is free to use as a search tool. However, since it pulls information from many other databases, it's possible that the information you pull up will require a login (or even payment) to access the full information.

Still, paper abstracts essentially introductions to and summaries of an article or study are typically free and provide an overview of what's contained within.

Google Scholar pulls from a plethora of research, so it's best to narrow your search to get the most relevant information. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Sort your searches by date (or specify a starting date) to find the newest, most relevant data.

2. Look out for the keywords "all versions," "related articles," and "cited by" to search for free versions of articles; you should look for PDFs and postings by libraries.

3. Look through an article's references section to gain a deeper understanding of a topic.

Google Scholar provides an excellent avenue into scholarly research, and while it does have its drawbacks, it's a tool that can be used to help clarify, explore and inform users about a wide variety of topics.

The key is knowing what you want and putting in a bit of time to hone your research skills.

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