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General Research Process: Evaluating Sources

Google vs. Google Scholar

Most people are familiar with Google, but fewer people are aware of Google Scholar. In this lesson we'll look at Google Scholar, as well as ways to more efficiently search them both.

What is Google Scholar?
Google Scholar is a subset of Google Web Search that enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including papers, theses, books, and reports.

What should I do if I’m asked to pay for the full text?
Google Scholar often links to commercial publisher websites that may ask you to buy a subscription or pay to access an article… Do not pay for articles! The library may provide access to some journal articles indexed in Google Scholar.

What should I do if the full text is not available?
Any time you have trouble accessing full text, contact a librarian for help.

Can I trust the resources listed in Google Scholar?
Not all Google Scholar results are “scholarly.” It is important to review and assess each information source for its appropriateness and relevance to your research.

What does “cited by” mean?
Google Scholar includes a list of references under each article and paper, so when an author cites old materials, even outdated information, these appear in your search results.

What should I do if I can’t find the resources I need in Google Scholar?
If you’re not finding the information you need in Google Scholar, don’t forget that the library has numerous article databases on a wide array of subjects. Contact the library for assistance.

Google Scholar is a search engine which provides access to resources across a range of subjects. Resources include abstracts, conference proceedings, technical reports, peer-reviewed papers, articles, theses, preprints and books.

Is it appropriate to use Google Scholar to find information for my academic research?

Google Scholar can be an appropriate research tool especially when your topic is not subject specific. However, view the information you retrieve critically and consider using additional research tools, especially for more in-depth projects and papers. Search results from Google Scholar are not always scholarly or peer-reviewed. For instance, articles in The New York Times are found in Google Scholar, yet this is not a refereed journal but rather a newspaper publication. Always evaluate your sources.

Though Google Scholar can be an excellent research tool for freely available materials or materials subscribed to by our Library, it is not a comprehensive search. Google Scholar only searches the materials it has indexed. Consider using other Library resources, such as the databases, to find additional information. If you need additional direction in determining what databases to search, contact a librarian.

How can I find full text articles using Google Scholar?

Option 1: Click on the title of the document. Sometimes you will be taken directly to the article, or you may find another link that directs you to the full text. E.g. Download PDF. If this option does not work, try Option 2.

Can I construct a detailed search in Google Scholar?

Google Scholar does have an Advanced Scholar Search. You can limit to a specific author, publication, date, or subject area. Visit "Advanced Scholar Search Tips" for more details.

What is Cited By?

Cited by is a link that leads to a listing of other resources that have cited the entry. Remember that this only includes resources indexed by Google Scholar. Yet, this link can be used to find additional resources that may relate to your topic.

How are resources ranked in Google Scholar?

Google Scholar ranks resources according to relevance using an undisclosed algorithm. A new feature (launched April 20, 2006) allows users to view All articles (the default) OR Recent articles. The Recent articles option is not merely a date sort. This ranking involves incorporating the date of publication, the number of citations to date, the author’s prominence, and the journal’s prominence.

Can you use the same search techniques I used with the databases to search Google?

YES! Many of the same search techniques can be used in Google, although they do differ slightly. 

  • AND: The default in Google is to put AND between all the search terms. 
  • OR: Google does recognize the boolean operator OR. 
  • Phrase searching: You can put phrases in quotes when searching Google. Ex: "health care reform" 
  • NOT: Google does recognize the boolean operator NOT; however, the symbol for that in Google is a minus sign. Ex: Trump -Ivanka

You can also search by various fields in Google. A few things you can limit by are:

  • language
  • region
  • last update
  • domain (Ex: .edu, .org)
  • file type (Ex: .doc, .pdf)
For more on advanced searching in Google visit their advanced search page or their page on using operators in the search box.

Google vs. Google Scholar

Evaluating Articles

What's the Difference between Scholarly Journals and Popular Magazines?

Library databases provide the full text to articles from magazines and journals. There are many difference between these two types of sources, and they serve different purposes in terms of the information they provide. 

Why does it matter?

  • In your research project or paper, you need to show how your ideas relate to those of others.
  • In most cases, you'll want to use articles from scholarly journals to support your arguments because these are written by experts, include references you can consult and verify the information, and have been carefully reviewed by other experts in the field for accuracy and reliability.
  • Sometimes, depending on your topic, you'll need to use articles from popular magazines. Be sure to check with your professor or instructor that the sources you're using are acceptable for the assignment's requirements.
  • Finally, whatever sources you use, you'll still need to evaluate them carefully. We'll talk about this in a little more detail in an upcoming module.
    • Does the author show bias and does it affect his/her conclusions?
    • Is the information accurate?
    • Does the author support his/her arguments with credible evidence?

Visually it's usually fairly easy to tell the difference between scholarly journals and popular magazines.

However, when you access magazines and journals, it can be more difficult because you don't have the visual clues. Below is a comparison of the characteristics of each of these type of publications.

A Quick Comparison

Scholarly Journals

Popular Magazines

Examples: Journal of Politics, Philosophical Quarterly, World Politics, Human Biology

Examples: People, Time, Newsweek, Vogue, National Geographic, The New Yorker

Articles written by experts: often professors

Articles written by non-specialists

Articles often go through a peer review process: independent experts evaluate the article before it's published

Articles are reviewed by an editor, but not by a panel of experts

Articles have footnotes and bibliographies

Articles may or may not mention sources in the text

Minimal advertising, graphics, or illustrations unless relevant to the article (for example, art journals)

Extensive advertising, lavish photos, colorful cover to market the magazine















This information has been adapted from the following source:

Evaluating Web Sites

Understanding types of websites out there

Think of the Internet as a newsstand and you may understand that information of all sorts can be found here.  Perhaps a few scholarly journals may be there, but there are lots of tabloids out there as well.  Then think beyond a newsstand and think of all sorts of information you can get in print-- from a bookstore, a library, the fliers outside a grocery store, the flier on your car's windshield, the letter you receive by an activist organization asking for a donation.  The very same information that can come from any of these forms can be on web pages that turn up from your search on the Web.

Here are the brief definitions of the types of web sites:

"An Advocacy Web Page is one sponsored by an organization attempting to influence public opinion (that is, one trying to sell ideas). The URL address of the page frequently ends in .org (organization)."

"A Business/Marketing Web Page is one sponsored by a commercial enterprise (usually it is a page trying to promote or sell products). The URL address of the page frequently ends in .com (commercial)."

"A News Web Page is one whose primary purpose is to provide extremely current information. The URL address of the page usually ends in .com (commercial)."

"An Informational Web Page is one whose purpose is to present factual information. The URL Address frequently ends in .edu or .gov, as many of these pages are sponsored by educational institutions or government agencies.
Examples: Dictionaries, thesauri, directories, transportation schedules, calendars of events, statistical data, and other factual information such as reports, presentations of research, or information about a topic."

"A Personal Web Page is one published by an individual who may or may not be affiliated with a larger institution. Although the URL address of the page may have a variety of endings (e.g. .com, .edu, etc.), a tilde (~) is frequently embedded somewhere in the URL."
Below is another good web site that helps you understand the difficulty of distinguishing research sites on the Web as easily as we can do in print.

Reading the URL:

Another element to look at when evaluating a web site, is the structure of its own address.

1)  What is the domain? (the three or two character extension at the end of the main institution's address, which is the address before the first single slash on the right):             

A .com is a commercial web site, meaning the institution is a corporate or small business entity.

A .gov indicates the sponsoring institution is a government body, which has the responsibility to provide reliable information.

A .org is a nonprofit organization that sometimes can be quite strong in their beliefs, other times can actually be a good institution providing lots of useful information and sometimes in an objective manner.  Most often, though the web site is more often selling its ideas and therefore, can be more biased.

 A .edu is coming from an educational institution (usually four years and more).  Many educational websites will have reliable information, however you need to read a .edu web site beyond the first slash to make sure (see below).

The domain can immediately say something about the institution, however be prepared.  Sometimes, some institutions will use a different domain (example: a law firm that provides services to nonprofit organization uses:  )

2)  What do you know about the sponsoring institution?

Could provide a clue about an organization's integrity as well as maybe its bias.  The name of the institution is usually what appears after the server (usually www) and before the domain (.com, .edu, etc.):

3)  Is it a personal web page?

Personal web pages are usually clearly marked by having a user name somewhere within the address.  Often the username of the person is followed by a ~ (a tilde symbol).

The above address clearly marks that the web page is by a student, however, not all educational institutions will have such a clear folder marked such as "students."  (In fact "users" is more often used).  But the ~ symbol is much more universal in warning you that it is a personal home page and usually not by an expert.  Professors and other academics usually do not have a ~ before their user name.

A personal home page can also be indicated by an Internet Services Provider or web page provider.  Watch out for addresses that have the words "members," any relating to a "home page" or a number used as part of the address.  Sometimes an institution or company may have such an address, and sometimes graduate students or even professors (such as part-time teachers) can keep their information on such web sites as well.  However, most often such pages are usually personal web pages reflecting the opinions of a person who may or may not be an expert, or an obscure organization.

Evaluate the Site Carefully, using the CRAAP test to help you:


  1. Currency - Is the content of the work up-to-date? Is the date of creation or most recent revision date clearly shown?
  2. Relevancy - Does the site provide relevant information to your search/topic? Are the images relevant to the information on the site? 
  3. Authority - Is the Author or source of the information identified and his/her qualifications in evidence? Does the site exhibit proper grammar, spelling, and literary composition?
  4. Accuracy - How reliable and error free is the information?  Who is the sponsoring institution (government, University, commercial company)?  How credible or well-known is the sponsoring institution? Does the information consist of documented facts or personal opinion?
  5. Purpose - What is the site’s purpose: to inform, explain, persuade or sell? Is the information presented with a minimum of personal bias? Is the site objective?