Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Should I be using Google Scholar for my dissertation?

I’m going to write a few blog posts aimed at those of you working towards your dissertations or research projects at the moment, and here’s the first: Google Scholar.

I’ll start off by saying that it shouldn’t be your starting point for any piece of research; that should be DISCOVER, our search engine which searches across most of our databases at the same time. DISCOVER contains a huge amount of scholarly material which you can use in your work, gives you lots of options to filter and limit what you find by publication date, source type, subject, geography and more, which will help you to manage the resources you find (in comparison, you’ll notice that Google Scholar has very few options for refining and filtering search results), contains loads of full-text articles (articles which you can download and read in full right there and then) and clearly indicates at a glance what is available in full-text. Whatever level you are or whatever assignment you’re working on, DISCOVER should be the first place that you search. If you need any help with this, please come into the Library and ask, or send me an email.

For those of you working on your dissertations or research projects, I would suggest using Google Scholar in addition to DISCOVER, as it does have a couple of useful features:

  • You’ll notice that under each search result, there is a link saying “Cited by 46” or similar. This means that there are 46 articles in Google Scholar which have cited that article – clicking on this link will take you forward to them. This can be a really good way of discovering newer material on your topic. You can also search within those articles (make sure that the “Search within citing articles” box is ticked) for your keywords, to really narrow down those articles which might be relevant.
  • Scholar also has a handy option to create alerts for your search terms; this means that you’ll get an email when a new article matching your terms comes into Google Scholar. Just click the “Create alert” option on the left-hand side of the screen. This is a good way of maintaining a current awareness in your area – particularly useful for those of you doing dissertations – although it doesn’t excuse you from going back and doing a search again in the future!
It’s worth mentioning at this point that there are a couple of other databases which you can access through the Library which also allow you to look at citations and save alerts; Scopus and Web of Science. Do spend some time on these as well.

There are several downsides to searching in Google Scholar. As I mentioned above, it has very few options for narrowing down your search; basically just publication date. This means that you will have to do a lot of trawling through to find what you’re after; you can’t refine your results to journal articles only, for example, or narrow down by subject or geography, as you can in DISCOVER and other databases such as Web of Science. Similarly, there is no quick and easy way to see what is available in full-text; DISCOVER will tell you at a glance at the record, and will take you into the article automatically when you click on the “Full-text” link, and you can also narrow down your search to full-text material only, so that you don’t find anything that you can’t access immediately. Scholar does not have these options. All of this is why I’d say that Scholar should never be used as an alternative to DISCOVER. 

If you are going to use it, then I’d also suggest doing a couple of things to make it act a bit more like a Library database, to make it a bit easier to manage what you find:
  • First, from the Scholar homepage go to Settings, then click on Library links. You’ll see a search box to add library access links: type in “Bedfordshire” and you’ll be given an option to select “University of Bedfordshire – UoB access”. Do this, and click Save. When you do a search, you’ll now see a clickable option of “UoB access” appear next to each search result, which will, upon clicking, search our online holdings for that item, to let you know whether we have access to it or not.
  • If you use RefWorks to manage your references, you can add an “Import into RefWorks” option for your results. Again, from the homepage, go into Settings, and then under Bibliography Manager, select Show links to import citations into RefWorks, and save. You’ll now see “Import into RefWorks" under each search result, which will work exactly as it does when you import a reference from DISCOVER.

If you need any help with finding material for your dissertation, in DISCOVER or elsewhere, please send me an email, and we can make sure you’re on the right track. Happy searching!