As an online student, having web-based access to academic resources is critical to your progress and achievement. Online resources are increasingly convenient for traditional students as well. Conducting a search with Google, the most popular Internet search engine, is probably something you do often to find articles and information that are relevant to your studies.
While Google can produce a good list of sites related to your search terms, the results aren't necessarily going to be academic resources – which are more desirable, and probably required, for use in your coursework. Google Scholar further refines the process and "provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature."
What is scholarly literature?
Sources that are considered scholarly include, but aren't limited to:
- academic journal articles,
- dissertations and theses,
- conference proceedings, and
- technical reports.
These items are written by academic experts, educators, and other researchers, for inclusion in scholarly publications. Many of these are peer-reviewed, meaning that they are assessed, prior to being approved for publication, by other academic experts and researchers who made recommendations to the authors and the publication's editors.
Scholarly, or academic, articles are different from popular articles that can be found in publications such as newspapers and magazines targeting a general audience. They are also different from trade or professional resources that offer helpful and relevant research and other reports focused on a specific field, but may not be as stringently reviewed. These publications are also more relevant for practitioners, not geared to researchers and students. Rutgers University provides a handy comparison chart of popular, scholarly, and professional publications.
Using Google Scholar
It can be confusing when all of these types of resources have journal in the title and emerge in a search conducted online or through a library's large system of databases. Google Scholar can be a good first step in discerning what is academic in nature and what is not. The service indexes web-based scholarly articles and ranks them according to "the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature."
Take a closer look at a few of the ways in which this tool can be helpful in locating resources you need for course assignments.
- Advanced Scholar Search: Google Scholar's main page is almost identical to the Google page in which you conduct your search based on keywords or phrases. The advanced search page allows you to take a more strategic approach, which is beneficial if you already know some of the information about the resources you are looking for, such as the author's name or a journal's title. Advanced search also includes options to search by academic subject area (e.g., Business, Administration, Finance, and Economics), and publication date.
- Scholar Preferences: By clicking on "scholar preferences" on the main Google Scholar page, you can further customize your search by language and type of collection (i.e., articles, patents, legal opinions). It is from this screen that you can also link your search to your school's library. By adding your school's library to your search, the results page indicates items that are further accessible through your school's subscriptions. Walden University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas provide just two examples of this kind of connection.
- Citation Analysis: Google Scholar searches produce lists of academic publication citations, which are linked to the article file, an abstract, or the publisher's home page with more information. The details provided on the results page include how many times each item has been cited in other works, and a link to a list of those works. Citation analyses are often used to assess the impact of an article, indicating how frequently it has been referenced by others, which can also be used as a measure of the author's influence in his or her field. You can use this list of additional citations to expand your search for relevant articles.
Not all of the citations retrieved with Google Scholar will be available in full-text format through this system, but the full citations are there and you can use those to find full-text versions through your school's library. Having the full citation will make it easier to locate the full text in library databases, even if they are not formally connected with Google Scholar.
One of the benefits of Google Scholar is that it is free to use, but there are other free sites that you can add to your search for academic publications. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) indexes over 75,000 full-text academic articles that are available without a fee, online. ScienceDirect and JSTOR are two other websites that allow you to conduct a free search for academic resources, although full copies of each item may not be free to access. Here again, you will be able to identify relevant citations and article abstracts that will help you locate full text versions through your school's library.
A Research Tool
Google Scholar is just one tool that is easily accessed in your search for scholarly literature. It requires no special login or password and may even be a part of your browser's toolbar. But don't limit yourself. Google Scholar may provide a starting point, but you should also include library services in your search and continue to expand your work with new tools as you move forward in your online program. Consult with your school's librarians to find out more about Google Scholar and the assistance available to you through your library and degree program.
Image credit: dannysullivan, Flickr, CC-BY