A type of web search engine for scholarly articles, Google Scholar can be accessed free-of-cost by anyone who has access to the Internet. It indexes the metadata or text of various scholarly articles belonging to all sorts of disciplines and publishing formats. The tool was released in November 2004 as a beta version and its index includes a good number of peer-reviewed online journals of America and Europe’s biggest scholarly publishers, as well as non-peer-reviewed journals and various scholarly books. Although Google never publishes the exact size of the Google Scholar’s database, third-party researchers estimated it to have around 160 million documents in May 2014.
The design and functionality of Google Scholar can be likened to other freely-available advanced research tools like getCITED and CiteSeerX. It’s also similar to various subscription-based research tools like Thomson Reuters Web of science and Elsevier’s Scopus.
Google Scholar features and specifications
Google Scholar allows you to carry out advanced search for both physical and digital copies of scholarly articles, whether they’re available in physical libraries or on the Internet. It indexes books, technical reports, full-text journal articles, theses, preprints and various other document types, including a good selection of webpages considered scholarly in nature.
Since a large majority of search results returned by Google Scholar point to commercial journals, people are only able to access the citation details and abstracts, and need to pay fee for accessing their complete texts.
Just like Google search engine, when you type in some keyword into the Google Scholar’s search field, you’re returned the most relevant results related to that keyword. The results are ordered based on author’s rankings, number of linked references and their relation to other scholarly content, apart from particular ranking of publication in which journals appear.
The ‘group of’ feature of Google Scholar displays the available links to the list of journal articles. Back in 2005, Google Scholar’s ‘group of’ feature used to provide links to both free-of-cost full-text versions as well as subscription-access versions of the different scholarly articles. However, in 2006 links were provided only to the publishers versions. From December 2006 till today, this feature provides links to major open-access repositories as well as the published versions of the scholarly literature. However, it doesn’t cover the content appearing on the individual faculty webpages. Nevertheless, the publishers can now provide access to such non-subscription and self-archived content through a Google link, allowing researchers to easily locate such open access literature.
Google Scholar’s ‘cited by’ feature provides researchers quick access to those articles’ abstracts which cited the currently viewed article. This feature is particularly instrumental in providing citation indexing which could earlier be found only in tools like Web of Science, Scopus and CiteSeer.
The ‘Related articles’ feature of Google Scholar presents you with a list of articles that are closely-related to the current one, ranked mainly on the basis of similarity with the original result, however, also keeping in mind the relevance of every listed paper.
The efficacy of advanced search through Google Scholar
The effectiveness of advanced search through Google Scholar can be ascertained from the fact that users can search and go through the published opinions of the US Supreme Court and State Appellate since the year 1950, opinions of US Tax and Bankruptcy, Appellate and Federal District courts since the year 1923 and the US Supreme Court cases since 1791.