As an academic working on a new research idea or writing a literature review, the goal is to read everything that is relevant to the topic you want to pursue. Locating all of these materials is a challenge to say the least, and every year there’s just that much more to find, although the process is a little easier in the age of the searchable online database.
Earlier this month Google made changes to the Google Scholar system that allow us as scholars to expand our scope as we look for the academic resources we need. They even conduct a sort of search for you, providing a list of recommended articles and other publications.
As stated on the Google Scholar Blog, “often the spark of discovery comes from making a new connection or looking in a direction that you hadn’t yet considered.” The system now has the capability to analyze the information in articles you’ve written (and included in your Google Scholar profile) to identify articles written by others that may be related to your research interests. You then receive notification of these articles as “updates” when you log in to your account. You don’t have to trigger this search or enter keywords. The recommendations are automatically generated with the details gathered from your citations.
Last week I read Jonathan Eisen’s post, “Wow – Google Scholar ‘Updates’ a big step forward in sifting through the scientific literature” and decided to try it out for myself.
Google Scholar recommended 9 “Top” and 50 “All” resources based on my current list of 20 publications. From the titles and brief descriptions of the top-listed items (screenshot below), most looked like they were relevant to my interests in online education, student services, and social media. The first one, “Rethinking Facebook: A tool to promote student engagement” [PDF] introduced me to a journal I wasn’t aware of, and the second was a June 2012 dissertation titled “The experiences of older students’ use of web-based student services,” which is available in full-text on the Oregon State University ScholarsArchive site.
In reviewing the recommendations I’m looking not only for interesting topics, but also for more information that helps me determine if the reference given is something I want to read further. Who are the authors, where is the item published, how recently was the research conducted, and is it openly available? Upon closer inspection one of the PDFs, for example, appears to be a draft manuscript, which may be informative and include even more interesting articles in the references section, but not easy for me to cite.
What Researchers are Saying
Ideally this change to Google Scholar and the recommendations it presents will be relevant to your work and help you explore new resources in fields you might not have sought out on your own, fueling your ideas and research.
But the updates aren’t perfect. Not all of them are interesting and/or relevant.
On the Webstory blog Peter Webster reports finding a few new articles of interest in his updates, but recognizes that the diverse topics addressed in his past publications may make the analysis more challenging in terms of identifying a greater number of recommendations that are on target with his current interests.
There are already requests for additional capabilities of Google Scholar. The Semantics etc. blog recommends a weekly digest feature with email notification of updates. As it is, this is yet “another page to check out once in a while.”
I also noticed that the navigation is a little confusing, especially if you, like me, aren’t in the system frequently. Finding the update list is easy enough, but moving around within the Scholar profile and related pages is not as smooth as it might be. Although there is stil work to do, the availability of Google Scholar updates is definitely a step in a helpful direction.
Set Up Your Profile
Taking advantage of these features and improvements hinges on having your own Scholar account. It’s free and easy to set up and may be beneficial to instructors with established publications, as well as students just getting started with their own research projects.
Why not get your profile started now and add your papers and publications as they become available? In addition to creating a sharable, searchable list of your academic work, you’ll find information about how often your articles have been cited by other researchers. It is also another way to help disseminate your work and develop a professional (and academic) presence online.
You can opt to keep your profile private, but it’s important to keep it up-to-date so that the system can use the latest information to assist you with recommendations.
What do you think?
If you haven’t tried using Google Scholar before, now may be the time to take it for a test drive. It’s becoming a more powerful tool not only for researchers, but also for students doing research for course assignments and papers.
Have you used Google Scholar? Tell us about your favorite ways to search online for academic articles.
Image credit: FindYourSearch, Flickr, CC-BY-SA