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Google and Google Scholar: How Google Scholar Works

A guide on how to use Google and Google Scholar effectively.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar Search

What is Google Scholar good for?

With Google Scholar you can search across many disciplines and sources for scholarly literature.

The Stellenbosch University Library licenses the content in the e-journals cited by Google Scholar and makes it available via authentication. You may be able to find material through Google Scholar, but you can only access it through the library and the library's subscriptions.

Searching through Google Scholar for articles on a specific topic is sort of like using the Stellenbosch Library's journal search.

Ways that Google Scholar is useful:

  • It can help a beginning researcher identify journal titles and authors connected with subjects of interest.
  • It may be useful for finding "grey literature" like conference proceedings. It includes many articles that wouldn't get included in other indexing services.
  • It can be useful for locating obscure references that are proving difficult to find in conventional databases.
  • It provides access to books and articles in a single search.
  • It can be very helpful in locating more information on partial citations.

What is Google Scholar NOT good for?

  • With a Google Scholar search you cannot:
    • search by peer review
    • sort/search by disciplinary field
    • browse by title
    • limit search results
  • You may get a long list of results, but you will only have access to the text of articles that the Stellenbosch University Library has paid subscriptions for.
  • You can't easily see what's included in Google Scholar: results will be articles, websites, essays from organizations, even PowerPoint presentations!
  • It is difficult to determine with 100% accuracy all that Google Scholar searches. Therefore, we do not know the breadth of what Google Scholar is indexing and consequently cannot judge the comprehensiveness or completeness of the results of a literature search.
  • We cannot tell how frequently items in Google Scholar are updated.
  • Searching in Google Scholar is imprecise when compared with discipline-specific databases.

Are you using Google Scholar effectively?

How to incorporate Google Scholar into your research

Google Scholar searches specifically for scholarly materials such as journal articles, research reports, dissertations and theses, preprints, 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 if the Stellenbosch University Library Service subscribes to the journal title, if it's from an open access journal, or if the researcher posted the article on her/his website.

Ask yourself a few questions about Google Scholar:

  • When would I use this tool?
  • What features does it have to help me get relevant results?
  • What does this tool do well?
  • What does it do poorly?

We don't really know how Google Scholar indexes items, but this is how Google Scholar defines the weighting system:

Google Scholar aims to sort articles the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each article, the author, the publication in which the article appears, and how often the piece has been cited in other scholarly literature. The most relevant results will always appear on the first page. (

Remember, Google's goal is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," but researchers need to learn to critically evaluate research materials.

Google does not search the deep web (aka Deepnet, invisible web or hidden web). These terms refer to World Wide Web content that is not part of the surface Web indexed by search engines. It is estimated that the deep Web is several orders of magnitude larger than the surface Web ( The hidden web is estimated to be 500 times larger than the surface web.

Google Scholar Handout


A downloadable handout with tips and tricks for using Google.