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Home >> Research & Instruction >> Research Services Blog >> Using Google Scholar Effectively
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This post will introduce you to Google Scholar and show you how to use it more effectively to help you in your research process.  

What is Google Scholar?

According to Google, “Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”

What are the drawbacks of Google Scholar?

  • Google Scholar searches only a small amount of the articles available in SDSU’s research databases.
  • Be aware, Google Scholar searches both peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed information. This means that not all the material returned is truly scholarly. As a result, there may be untrustworthy results returned.
  • Google Scholar returns results that require you to pay for full text of the articles.
    • However, if you search for the same topic or specific article through the library you often have full text access through the library, and if not, you are able to request the full text of the article through Interlibrary Loan free of charge (more info on ILL here).  
  • There is no way to limit to only peer reviewed articles or only full text articles like there is in many of the more robust library research databases.

For these reasons, Google Scholar should be used to complement not replace SDSU’s research Databases.

What are the benefits of Google Scholar?

  • Google Scholar, like Google, uses natural language which is easier to search than the more complex searching rules required by library research databases.
  • Google Scholar provides a wide range of interdisciplinary results.
  • Google Scholar also provides links to articles that are “Cited By” and “Related Articles.”
    • The “Cited By” feature allows you to look at articles that have cited the article you found. This helps your research process because it links to other articles that have commented on the original article you found, giving you a better understanding of how relevant and reliable that original article is to your research subject.

When should I use Google Scholar?

  • You are new to the research process and would benefit from using more natural language to search.
  • It is early in your research process, and you can benefit from the wide range of disciplines Google Scholar searches.
  • You need background information on your topic and/or need help narrowing down your topic before diving into the library’s databases. 
  • You need help brainstorming keywords and phrases to use when you search in the library’s research databases. 
  • You want to check out what other articles have cited an article that you have found particularly helpful to your research project.

How can I get the most of Google Scholar?

The first thing you should do to be an effective Google Scholar searcher is set your preferences so that Google Scholar works with SDSU’s library to determine if and where SDSU has full text access to the articles you find.  To do this you must do the following:

  • Go to Google Scholar.
  • Click on Settings. Select Library Links.
  • Type in "San Diego State University" in the 'Library Links' section.
  • Select the box next to San Diego State University- Find it at SDSU
  • Click Save.
  • Start searching with links to your library's resources.  When you find an article that looks helpful, click on the Find it at SDSU link on the right hand side of the search results.  This will then search the library’s resources for full text access and return a screen that shows you what databases have access to this article or if the library has a copy in print.  If we don’t own the article, there will be a link to Interlibrary Loan so that you can request that article free of charge.  If you're off campus, you'll need to authenticate using your SDSUid and password.

You can search by author, publication, date, legal opinion, journal title, and more.  Most of these advanced features must be used under the advanced search screen, found by clicking the downward facing arrow icon next to the Search button on the Google Scholar home screen.  Here is a link to the Google Scholar Search Tips to help you build more complex searches.

I found a great article on Google Scholar but there is no full text, or it costs money, now what?

If you found an article on Google Scholar that you want access to, you should search for this article using the library's Find a specific article from the citation page. Put in as much information as you have to find out if and where the library has access to this article.

If the library has online access to this article, it will be returned here and you will go into a database to access the full text of that article. Sometimes, you are taken into the full text of the journal, but not to the specific article. If that is the case, you will need to use the citation information including the volume, issue and year to find the correct issue you need to get the article you want.

If the library has this article in print, it will tell you where in the library this item is located, and the call number for that journal.  

If the library does not have full text access to your article, you can request this article using Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Find out more information on ILL here.

If you have questions with any of the steps in this process, stop by the research desk (1st floor, Library Addition) and a reference librarian will happily teach you how to find that article you are looking for.


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Phone 619.594.6728  Text: 619.567.9743

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