How to Use Google Scholar

By Kelly Tabbutt

Learn about how to use Google Scholar in this post.

Welcome to the Library in Your Computer

In many ways, using Google Scholar is like looking for books in a library, but with improved, powerful capabilities that can help you with your research endeavors. Google Scholar search results only include scholarly books, patents, case law, scholarly journal articles, and references.

The landing page for Google Scholar resembles the main Google Search page. However, searching in Google Scholar is a quite different experience from searching in standard Google.

For one thing, Google Scholar results pages do not feature the same images you are used to seeing on Google. The search and results sorting features on Google Scholar are also unique from that of regular Google Search.

You will also notice on the Google Scholar landing page that you have a choice of scholarly documents: you can look for either scholarly journal articles or case law.

screenshot of the main page in google scholar

The Who, Where, and When of Scholarly Searching

Google Scholar is commonly used to conduct research — often in the form of literature searches for academic articles. A goal of your literature search can be to find journal articles to build your own research idea. You can also use Google Scholar to perform a literature review — that is, to compile a summary overview of scholarly work in a given topic.

Before you get started searching on Google Scholar, familiarize yourself with three basic aspects of literature search: citation count, publication name, and publication date. These three metrics can help you determine the legitimacy and influence carried by the work you use in your research.

Citations

Researchers build off of each other’s work. They do this by quoting, or citing, the work of previous researchers to support their own current projects. Articles with many citations are more influential because many authors have incorporated the article into their own work, and perhaps built their research upon the findings. So, when authors cite others’ work, it is generally a legitimization of that research and the findings resulting from it. Therefore, one simple way to quickly gauge the scholarly influence of a book or article is to look at how many times it was cited by other authors.

Google Scholar displays the number of citations in search results. In the image below, we have searched for the phrase “cancer drug delivery” in Google Scholar. Observe that the first search result was cited 2813 times and the second was cited only 321 times.

screenshot showing where you can find the number of citations for a given entry in google scholar search results

Clicking on the “Cited by” link brings up a list of the articles which have cited the article in question. You can use that link to search within citing articles, too, but we’ll not get into that here.

Scholarly Sources

Peer-reviewed journal articles are the “gold standard” for scholarly research. They carry more weight than other types of articles because they have been critically evaluated and approved by a group of peer scholars in the field. Well-known and well-respected journals are generally considered to be most influential. That’s why focusing on articles written by accredited academics or public experts in well-known, well-respected journals is the best bet for finding reputable and influential sources.

Google Scholar’s search results help you examine your search results to look for the most impactful sources. The search results display the journal title and date for each article.

You can see the journal title listed below for each search result in this Google Scholar search for “whole genome sequencing.”

screenshot of google scholar results page indicating where you can find publication names in search results

Recency

Another tip for Google Scholar literature searches is to look for recent sources – within the last ten years or more recently is a good rule of thumb. More recent articles will use the most up-to-date facts, methods, and perspectives on whatever you are researching.

Google Scholar displays the publication year of each article it serves up in search results.

screenshot of google scholar results page indicating where you can find the publication year for a given entry in search results

You can also specify a date range for Google Scholar search results using the “Custom range” option in the left sidebar.

screenshot of how to use custom date range in google scholar

More Google Scholar Search Tips

As previously mentioned, searching in Google Scholar will, in many ways, replicate the experience of searching for books in a library computer. Thus, the same search practices will work well in both settings. When choosing keywords to search for in Google Scholar, as when searching in a library database, omit articles such as “the” or “a” before your keywords for best results.

Keywords

Consider your use of keywords in your search. It’s a good idea to search for general terms if you are new to a topic. If you’re more well-versed in the technical terminology of the field and are looking for more specific information, you can search using more detailed keywords. A good search strategy is to first search using general search terms, then add more keywords to further hone future searches.

Using Advanced Search Features

Google Scholar, like regular Google search, uses search operators — shortcuts that can be used in the search bar to improve and further refine search results. Beginners who are not familiar with the search operators can use Google Scholar’s “advanced search” feature.

Google Scholar’s advanced search options allow you unique ways to specify your search in more detail. To access the advanced search options, simply click the three lines at the top left corner of the screen. This will open a menu from which you can select ‘Advanced Search.’

screenshot of how to access advanced search in google scholar

Clicking ‘Advanced search’ brings up a new window in which you can add additional words to your search, look for particular publications, or search for articles published in a certain time range, as shown here:

screenshot of advanced search options in google scholar

You can pull up the advanced search box while searching on Google Scholar, as shown here:

screenshot of google scholar showing how to use advanced search options

The advanced search feature allows you to input keywords to include or exclude. This feature also allows you to search within particular date ranges, look for specific scholarly journals or books, or find works by specific authors.

Related Articles

Once you find an article you like, you can use Google Scholar’s “Related articles” function to generate a list of additional articles that may interest you. Clicking the “Related articles” link listed below the citation of interest takes you to a new page with links to related articles. This feature is particularly useful when you are trying to do a literature review or build a bibliography and want to do some more sleuthing.

screenshot indicating where to find the 'related articles' section under a citation in google scholar

Using Search Operators in Google Scholar

Search operators can help maximize your Google Scholar literature search.

Let’s talk about how to search for particular words and phrases using search operators. We’ve previously talked about how to use search operators in regular Google, and it’s all very similar in Google Scholar.

Including Exact Phrases

Keep in mind that you can use quotations to search for exact phrases in Google Scholar. You can also use quotes to search for exact terms in regular Google.

Searching for exact phrases in Google Scholar is accomplished by putting the phrase in quotations in the search. This is useful when there is a specific phrasing for a concept or particular research that you want to focus on. It can also be useful if you are researching the origins of a particular phrase.

screenshot of how to search for specific keywords in google scholar

Including Keywords

When you search for topics, you can indicate what to include and what to exclude from your search, including exact phrases. If you want your search to return results that contain all of your keywords, you will need to use the word “and” to separate all search terms. You can substitute phrases for individual terms — just make sure you put the phrases in quotes (e.g., “COVID-19 immunity” and “vaccine”).

screenshot of how to specify keywords to include in a google scholar search

You can also search for one keyword or another — or both — using the word “or” to separate search terms. Use this option when you are trying to find something which may go by different names (e.g., COVID or Coronavirus), or when you are researching multiple related topics (e.g., COVID treatments or COVID hospitalizations). You can also search for one phrase or another — just remember to put the exact phrases in quotes (e.g., “COVID-19 vaccine” OR “COVID vaccine”).

screenshot of how to specify keywords to include in a google scholar search

Excluding Keywords

You can choose to narrow down search results by excluding keywords. This isn’t always the best option, because you may be missing out on useful search results. However, it can help you avoid scrolling through pages and pages of irrelevant results if there’s something you are NOT looking for that keeps showing up in search results.

Do this to exclude a term from your Google Scholar search: add a minus sign or hyphen immediately preceding the term you wish to omit, with no space. This serves to “subtract” the word from your search results. You can both exclude words and phrases — to omit a phrase, add the minus sign directly preceding the term (e.g., COVID-19 -“monoclonal antibody”).

For example, if you want to research “COVID treatments,” but wish to exclude those that are anti-inflammatory, you would type “treatments -anti-inflammatory” (without quotes, as shown below). This is useful if there are search terms that frequently appear with your keywords but are irrelevant to your search. (And, by the way, you can also use the minus sign to exclude irrelevant search terms in regular Google!)

screenshot of how to search, excluding specified terms, in google scholar

Searching Within Specific Sites

Another advanced function that you can use in Google Scholar (that we’ve already talked about for regular Google search) constraining your search results to those belonging to a certain website. You can do this easily in the search bar by typing the word “site” followed by a colon (“site:”) followed by the particular website (with no space between the colon and the site name). For example, if you want your search to only return results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (www.cdc.gov), simply type your search terms followed by “site:cdc.gov” as shown below.

screenshot of how to search by website in google scholar

Searching Within Specific Journals/Books

You can also constrain your search results to a particular journal or book. To do this, after typing in your keywords, type “source:” followed by the particular journal or book. For example, if you would like your search to serve up results from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), you would type your keywords followed by “source: Journal of the American Medical Association” or “source: JAMA”, as shown below.

screenshot of how to search in google scholar by source

Keeping Track of Your Work

Google Scholar’s powerful functionality can also help you build your bibliography or works cited page for a literature review or other academic report. Once you’ve found the references you were looking for, you can save them to your library. You can also use Google Scholar to generate citations in the most common citation styles.

Saving to Your Library

When you are doing a lot of research, searching through page after page of search results and trying out different keywords, it can be easy to lose track of the articles that caught your attention. This is why Google Scholar’s library feature is an incredibly useful tool. While you are conducting your search, simply click the star icon below the article you are interested in, and it will save the article to your Google Scholar library.

screenshot of how to save articles to one's google scholar library

Then, when you are ready to view your saved articles, simply go to the menu by clicking the line logo at the top left of the screen — and select “My library.”

screenshot showing how to access 'my library' in google scholar

This will bring up “My library,” which contains all of your starred articles. You can also search within your library by typing in search terms or using the left sidebar to only view articles published after a specific year.

screenshot of using 'my library' in google scholar

Generating Citations

Google Scholar offers a convenient way to build a reference list or bibliography — it provides ready-made citations using the most common citation styles. Simply click the quotation icon below the citation, and Google Scholar will generate a list of citations for the work in various citation styles.

screenshot highlighting the quotation icon, used for generating a list of citations in google scholar

Google Scholar provides a list of different citation formats — including MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, and Vancouver styles.

screenshot of different citation formats in google scholar

From the initial search process to keeping track of references, Google Scholar can help with it all. Furthermore, if you are working in Google Docs, you can add citations to your document easily from Google Scholar with the Google Docs citation tool.

Conclusion

Google Scholar can help you quickly and easily find a variety of documents, as well as help you keep track of references. By familiarizing yourself with the many functionalities of Google Scholar, you can make the most of this powerful search tool.

This post is Part 3 of our “How to Use Google Better” series. Check out Part 1 about Google’s non-search features or Part 2 about using search operators to help you find things on Google. Check out all of our articles on Google Search here.

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