Plan: Your search strategy for using Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a version of Google which only searches scholarly information. Google don’t say specifically how they select which material is scholarly, but they do search pre-prints, institutional repositories, universities, academic journals, professional societies, and books.

Google Scholar uses algorithms to choose which results to display and how to rank them. Google Scholar is good at finding material in the science and technology fields, and less so for the humanities. It is also very good at locating official reports and other grey literature, which are often hard to track down using other methods.

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Setting Preferences

  • Click on the Scholar Preferences link to the right of the search box.
  • You can change a number of settings here, including language and how many results are shown. The two below are very useful (If you have a Google account, you will be able to save these settings so you will always see them when you are logged in to Google).

Library Links

  • Scroll down to Library Links. If you are accessing Google Scholar on campus, or logged in to the VPN, Imperial College may already be selected as your library link:

  • If you don’t see the above, then search for Imperial College, and click the check boxes next to these two options. This allows you to check whether the Library has online access to the results you find.

Bibliography Manager

  • Scroll to the bottom of the screen and the Bibliography Manager section. If you are using bibliographic management software (e.g. EndNote, Reference Manager, RefWorks), you can export results from Google Scholar in a recognised format, which will help you keep track of your results.

  • Click Save Preferences to save your settings.


  • Google Scholar has two searches – normal and advanced.
  • Try the normal search first –type your search terms into the search box and clickSearch.
  • Your results will be displayed with a variety of options for each result:

  • Recent articles – this will allow you to see more current articles. The default is the last five years, but you can change this.
  • green arrow The small green arrow means that Google Scholar has found a copy of the paper online. This will usually be an open access version, for example in a repository.
  • SFX logo SFX@Imperial  – Opens an SFX window so you can check Imperial’s online holdings. This does not search the library catalogue (See Setting Preferences).
  • Cited by – the articles that Google Scholar can find which have cited the article.
  • Related Articles – searches for articles which are on a similar theme. This can be useful if you find an article which looks very relevant to your search.
  • Import into RefWorks – allows you to add the citation of the article to RefWorks or other bibliographic software. (This can be changed – see Setting Preferences).
  • BL Direct – This service from the British Library allows you to purchase articles directly from them. However, you should check the library catalogue first, as we may have access to the article in print. You can also use our inter-library loans service to obtain articles that we don’t have in the Library. However, BL Direct may be useful as a last resort!
  • All … versions – Google Scholar groups articles it thinks are the same together. This may mean that it has found results for a conference paper, a preprint and an article in a peer-reviewed journal and linked them together.

Types of result

  • Google Scholar will often find information from sources where it can’t find information to link to on the web. It will mark these results as a book or citation, and will provide as much information as it can about them. You will need to search the library catalogue to see if the item is available in any Imperial College Library.

Advanced Search

  • In common with most databases, Google Scholar has advanced search features.
  • You can use these to exclude search words, search by phrase or search for one of several words – the options are similar to Boolean searching.
  • You can restrict your search to author, publication or date range (which is more flexible than the Recent Articles option). For example, if you require an article inNature from last year, you could restrict the search accordingly.
  • You can limit your search to a Subject Area. This could be useful if you are getting a very large number of hits and want to narrow it down. You should use it with caution though – Google Scholar don’t say how they determine which subject a paper is in, so you could end up excluding useful results.

Things to remember

  • Google Scholar is still in Beta. This means that Google are still working on it, and it may change over time.
  • Double-check to see if we have access. Although Google Scholar has access to our journals information, occasionally it may provide incorrect information. It’s always worth checking the library catalogue – this will allow you to see if we have a journal in print (which Google Scholar can’t check for). If we don’t have access in print or online, then you can try our inter-library loans service if you are eligible.
  • Check your preferences. If you don’t have an account with Google Scholar, your preferences may be reset for each session.
  • Google Scholar doesn’t always have access to the same resources that you do as a member of Imperial College. Citation searching, in particular, may be less effective using Google Scholar, as it only has access to a relatively small number of articles.
  • Don’t forget that you still need to evaluate the source of your information. Although Google Scholar has indexed the article, it may not have been peer-reviewed or come from a reputable source.
  • Google Scholar is best at finding online information. It may not be able to find older journal articles or books, as this information is less readily available on the internet.
  • There is no information on how Google Scholar ranks its results. Evidence suggests that more-frequently linked articles are likely to be ranked more highly than others; articles that are not available online are more likely to be missed.
  • The grouping mechanism is not perfect – you may get duplicate results which aren’t linked into a group (see Searching), but are actually versions of the same paper.


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