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Succeeding in postgraduate study
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5.4 Searching for information – Google Scholar

Google Scholar can provide a useful search facility for peer-reviewed papers, theses, books and reports across all subject areas, as well as patents and legal opinions (US). However, do bear in mind that it does not cover all scholarly information. Therefore, to be sure that the information you obtain is comprehensive – you should not rely solely on this search engine (see Section 5.3). The following activity will guide you in carrying out an advanced search using Google Scholar.

Activity 6 Advanced search using Google Scholar

Timing: Allow approximately 30 minutes
  • STEP 1. Go to the Google Scholar Home Page [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (you might want to add this page to your Favourites tab for easy access in the future). Carry out a search using a topic of your own choosing, and take a look at what is retrieved.
  • STEP 2. You can improve the relevance of the returned results by editing your entry in the search box (e.g. by changing or adding to your keywords and using ‘search operators’). This Google Scholar Helpsheet provides a summary of search operators that you can use to refine your search.
  • STEP 3. Your search results are normally sorted by relevance, not by date. To find the most recent articles, you can specify settings in the left-hand sidebar on the results page in Google Scholar. By clicking on the ‘since year’ tab (e.g. ‘since 2017’, or you can specify a ‘custom date range’), only publications since the date specified will be shown, automatically sorted by relevance. Clicking on the ‘sort by date’ tab will show just new additions, sorted by date. You can also have the results delivered to your email account by clicking on the ‘create alert’ (envelope) icon. Note that while abstracts are usually free for most articles, access to the full text may require a subscription (or require you to log in via your university library), unless the article is published as ‘open access’, in which case either a PDF or HTML version can be viewed freely online.
  • STEP 4. If you find what looks like a particularly good article, you can find other potentially relevant articles by using the ‘cited by’ and ‘related articles’ links which often appear in the row of links under each search result. The ‘cited by’ link gives you a list of articles which have referenced the article you originally found (this also provides an indication of how many times the article has been cited). The ‘related articles’ link gives you a list of articles which Google Scholar considers to be similar to the article you originally found. The degree to which these are related is ‘judged’ by the similarity of the words in the article title, abstract and full text. Try using the ‘cited by’ and ‘related articles’ links with an article from the search you have just run.