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Google Scholar is a special search engine operated by Google Inc., and is specifically aimed at scientists, students, and similar target groups. It makes it possible to carry out a comprehensive literature search in order to find scientific documents and sources.
Data in Google Scholar
Google Scholar is parallel to the traditional Google Web Search and includes a variety of media, with the search engine focusing in particular on scientific literature. Some of the media types indexed are listed as follows:
- Journal articles
- Books (also partly imported from Google Books)
- Technical reports
- Seminar work
- Student degree theses (master thesis, diploma, doctorate)
- Presentations with MS PowerPoint
- Presentations of conferences
The available documents are freely accessible publications on the Internet. In addition, Google has also entered into collaborations with publishers and professional associations to index their publications in the full text. The corresponding search results can often only be viewed for payment of a fee.
Google Scholar functions
Google Scholar is used to search directly through a variety of possible sources, to find quotes and works, as well as complete works, or to carry out an evaluation of the most important works in a specific subject area. Google Scholar allows full-text search in the indexed documents.
This makes the search service distinctly different from other scientific databases where only abstracts, keywords and bibliographical data can be searched.
Another significant difference in functionality is the way in which the sources are assessed. In contrast to scientific databases, the captured sources are not evaluated on an intellectual basis, i.e. by means of the knowledge of experts, but by algorithms. These evaluate whether an article corresponds to scientific requirements and whether it is relevant. The frequency of a source’s citations is also relevant to their placement in Google Scholar’s search results.
Tips on usage
To use Google Scholar effectively, it is advisable to make predefined settings. This includes:
- Search results
- Library links
General settings can be made under search results, while the language of the scientific sources searched should be limited as well. All settings must be confirmed with the blue “Save” button.
In particular, enrolled students benefit from access to electronic media of a university library when they access the Library tab. You can use this Google Scholar setting to select and save the appropriate library. A VPN connection and new proxy settings may be necessary to access the library outside the university network.
If you are searching for an author such as “Ludwig Wittgenstein,” Google Scholar not only displays all the indexed scientific sources but also the electronic media of your own university library. Sources that are available in PDF format can be accessed via a quick link. The results can be further limited by the tabs Articles, Any Time, Sort by Relevance, and Web Search. My Library is another useful feature under the tab Articles. It allows you to save media if you have a Google Account.
If a search via Google Scholar does not yield the desired results, the advanced search is a way to more accurately specify the search criteria. It is accessible via the down arrow in the upper right corner of the search screen similar to “Key Figures” and “Settings.” Various logical operators can be used to include multiple spellings of an author or publication, or to search only sources with a specific keyword. For example, “Ludwig Wittgenstein” and “certainty.”
The KPIs are also very helpful. If a publication is to be assessed according to its reputation, the citation figures provide an initial indication of its influence on scientific discourse, at least with regard to electronic media. When you select a specific subject, you will get the most important media for that subject. My citations can also be used to observe the number of citations of your own publication, if it was published electronically and with an author profile.
Pros and Cons of Google Scholar
Google Scholar has a number of benefits:
- Very simple usability similar to Google Web Search
- High search speed
- Huge index
- Browsing of sources in full text
- Accessibility of the deep web with Google Scholar
Google Scholar has been criticized for its “rigid information policy,” which does not tell the user how the evaluation algorithm works in detail, what data is exactly indexed, or how often it is updated. Google Scholar is also sometimes criticized for treating presentation slides or semester papers of students as scientific publications. This makes it difficult to assess the quality of the sources found for newcomers in the field of scientific research. The following points are criticized as well:
- Lack of intellectual examination of the sources
- Short bibliographical references
- Partially false indexing and extraction algorithms
- No sorting and inadequate filter functions
- Keywords and abstracts from trade journals not taken into account
Relevance to search engine optimization
A separate part of search engine optimization has been developed for the optimization of the search results in Google Scholar. It is called academic search engine optimization (ASEO). Many of the actions taken in this discipline are similar to regular search engine optimization. One important ranking criterion is the frequency of citations of a source.
Similar to link building for the Google Web Search, the ranking can be improved by the specific establishment of citations, for example through further own publications. In addition, the keyword density can have an impact on positioning in the Google Scholar SERPs. Important keywords should therefore appear in the title of the publication, body text, subheadings, and abstract.