Google Scholar was my Number 1 Tool and absolute best friend as a university student. It should be yours, too.
Google Scholar is a goldmine of a resource for boosting your grades.
It makes studying easier, means you can find tons more articles than you thought you could, and often saves you a few trips into your library to find sources.
In this article I’ll show you exactly how to use Google Scholar like a Pro.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to master Google Scholar.
Whenever I found myself in a situation where I had an essay due on short notice, Google Scholar saved my life. I’ve been in situations in Northern England where my university was closed due to snowfall and the only way I could get the articles I needed to finish my essays was to use Google Scholar.
It works. And it’s saved my life a million times. I’ve written over 25 academic articles, and even as a professional, Google Scholar is my go-to source.
If you want to save time while writing your essay, Google Scholar is the source for you. In fact, even if you don’t want to save time, you really should be using Google Scholar for every single essay you write at university.
Let’s take a look under the hood and find out what Google Scholar’s all about, and how to use Google Scholar like a Pro!
1. Ditch Regular Google. Google Scholar Kicks its Butt.
Look, you’ve probably been told this a million times, but from the perspective of a professor, let me tell you: it needs to be said again. Don’t use regular Google to find information for your essay.
Okay, let me reword that: Don’t cite sources from regular Google. I know that you will probably Wikipedia key ideas, read easy-to-digest blog posts about your topics, and generally get to understand ideas through google searches. Okay, that’s fine. But that’s not what you’re going to cite in your essays. In fact, that’s what we might call Pre-Research. It’s what we do before we get serious about writing our essay.
When it’s time to get serious, you’ve got to only read and cite the quality articles written by experts. Take a look at this infographic for some ideas of what you should and shouldn’t cite:
Google Scholar is your go-to source when you want to find quality articles to cite in your essays. It filters out the nonsense for you and works hard to provide only the high-quality sources on the infographic above. It cuts out the junk to save you time.
So next time you’re wanting to cite a blog post or website, stop yourself. Go to Google Scholar, spend three minutes looking up some keywords, and cite a real scholarly source instead.
Here’s how to use Google Scholar in a nutshell:
1. Go to the Google Scholar website. Pay special attention: Google Scholar is not normal Google.
2. Type in the keywords for the topic you’re researching:
3. Read the descriptions under each search result
4. Select a source that seems relevant.
5. Read the source
6. Cite the source.
Done! It’s that simple. But wait … if you want to be a pro Google Scholar user, read on and I’ll zoom in on some strategies to take your Google Scholar searching to the next level…
2. Use Google Scholar to find the most Relevant Articles (It is way better than your University Database)
Does your university search database suck? I’m yet to find one that doesn’t.
I remember back in the 2008-2012 years when I was an undergrad using my university’s database to search for sources. Let me tell you, I could never find a source that was worth my time! I would even find it hard to find sources on mainstream, well researched topics! My university database would show up irrelevant, pointless sources – if it found any at all!
Even nowadays, University online library search databases suck at finding quality sources.
Google Scholar, on the other hand, is one great intuitive piece of software.
The reason? Most universities:
a) Don’t have access to a wide range of Journals. Each journal costs the university an annual fee of several thousand dollars. I get emails from my university regularly asking me whether it’s really worthwhile renewing a subscription to X, Y, or Z journal. I’m also constantly told that I can’t recommend articles to my students because the university doesn’t have access to those articles. But you know who probably does? Google Scholar!
b) They also don’t have an intuitive search brain. The university databases often only search for keywords in the article title. By contrast, Google Scholar searches for keywords not only in the title but also the abstract. This dramatically increases your search net and finds you articles that are more relevant to you. Thanks, Google Scholar!
3. Use Google Scholar to bypass Paywalls
Most quality scholarly articles are blocked behind paywalls. The way you get access to them is that your university pays a yearly fee to get access (see Point 2).
Google Scholar has intuitively crawled the web looking for ways to get around Journal paywalls. And, frankly, it does a really good job.
These days scholars who publish articles behind paywalls also make copies available via their own university websites or on sites like ResearchGate.net and Academia.edu. Google finds those articles for you and gives you one-click access.
Here’s how you can take advantage of that: pay special attention to the [PDF] and [HTML] links on the right-hand side of the search results. All sources that you can have direct access to will have this link.
So, if you’re in a hurry, don’t pay attention to any others – just start looking for sources with those PDF and HTML links so you don’t waste time looking for articles you don’t have access to.
Fortunately, these days more than 50% of articles can be accessed without paywalls, all thanks to Google Scholar.
4. Link Up Google Scholar with your University Database
Okay, there’s still a purpose for your University search database. Here it is:
Google Scholar doesn’t technically have paid access to any Journals. I’ll explain to you how and why it gives you free access to so many articles in Point 4.
But it’s true, sometimes Google Scholar just can’t find you the full text of a source. Nonetheless, as I pointed out in Point 3, Google Scholar is still better at finding quality sources, even if it can’t give you access to them.
So, you should let Google Scholar know that you are attached to a University that might give you access. Then, Google Scholar will let you know if your university database can help you out.
Here’s what to do:
- Go to ‘Settings’ and ‘Library Links’.
- Enter your University’s name.
- Click Search.
- Check the box that shows your university database.
- Click Save.
- Then, go back and search for articles on Google Scholar (because it’s the best search engine for Scholarly sources!).
- Then, when you find articles that you think you want, see if Google Scholar can give you access (see Point 3 above)
- If it can’t, you should now have access to your University Database to see if your University can give you access in just one click.
5. Narrow your Search to Sources from the Past 10 Years
Has your teacher ever told you to only cite sources from the past 10 years? That’s a pretty solid piece of advice.
Google Scholar makes this so easy.
Simply conduct your search, then on the left-hand sidebar, click ‘Custom Range’ and narrow the search range to the past 10 years:
Done! Couldn’t be easier. Aren’t you glad you know how to use Google Scholar?
6. Use the ‘Cited By’ Method to find Newer (and more Relevant) Articles
Here’s where Google Scholar really comes into its own.
Let’s say you just couldn’t find a relevant source from the past 10 years. Sometimes it’s impossible!
There’s still a way around it.
Simply find an older source that still looks awesome and press the ‘Cited by’ button:
This will take you to all articles that have cited that original article. The upshot of this is that all these articles will have at least some relevance to the original article and will (naturally) also all be newer! This method often helps me find hard-to-reach articles that I can’t find any other way.
Next, to zoom in even more, you can set the custom range to the past 10 years again to find all articles that cite the original text, but happen to be new enough for you to cite!
But wait, there’s more. Let’s say you want to make sure the newer text you search for is still as relevant as possible. If you click ‘search within citing articles’, you can do a new search to find all articles that discuss the keyword you’re interested in and that cite the older text. For this example, I still wanted to look for newer articles like my original one (‘Inequality in Education’) but I also wanted to narrow it down to “gender” inequality. See below where I checked ‘Search within Citing Articles’ before searching ‘gender’:
7. Use Google Scholar to Generate Citations
Referencing is necessary, but tough. People often try to use citation generators online, but I hate citation generators. They never get citations right. And, to be honest, nor does Google Scholar’s. But, it is very convenient and helps me to get the basic skeleton of my citation that I can patch-up to make it right.
Here’s how to use Google Scholar to generate your citations:
1. Find the source you want to cite on Google Scholar.
2. Click the quote symbol beneath the source.
3. Copy the text for the citation style you are using.
4. Check it against a referencing style cheat sheet to make sure all the information is there and in the right spot.
8. Follow Author Links to find a Scholar’s Newest Articles
Another way to find more up-to-date sources is to follow an author’s list of works. When I was doing my PhD, I used an author called Neil Selwyn to examine a range of different ideas related to educational technologies. I therefore needed to be very much up to date with his complete works.
So, I went to Google Scholar, found one of his texts, and then clicked his name:
This took me to his complete list of works. I sorted them by ‘YEAR’, and hey presto! I found all of his newest ideas which I promptly read about and inserted into my thesis to improve my grade:
9. Google Scholar and Google Books work Hand-In-Hand
Google Scholar isn’t just for journal articles. You can also use Google Scholar to find relevant textbooks. Again, thanks to Google, you can read those books right on your computer – for free!
Here’s a book that I think might be relevant to my topic:
Google Scholar tells me it’s a [BOOK] and lets me click the link to go straight to the first page of the book. Sure, it’s a preview, but usually you get a good chunk of the book to read online (and can even search for keywords within the book):
If the link takes you elsewhere, you can always go to Google Books and search the full title of the book there to see if you can get access to a preview.
10. Bookmark Important Articles for Future Assignments
Sometimes one book comes in useful throughout your whole degree. My Education Studies students constantly cite a book by L. Pound that gives a really nice overview of a range of approaches to teaching. It’s a worthwhile book that students can go to in order to get great information.
So, my students often save this book in their Google Scholar bookmarks library for quick access. Simply save any book or article you love by pressing the star button under the title:
To access the books in your library, simply click ‘My Library’ in the top Menu. Here’s the first three articles saved in my library:
11. Create your own Google Scholar Profile
Academics can create their own Google Scholar profiles to claim publications of their own. I do this to claim my publications, but you should do it too – even if you’re not an author.
Because you can add ‘areas of interest’ to help Google Scholar find and recommend sources for you. You can also start to follow authors who are relevant to your studies – especially those authors whose work you use regularly (like L. Pound, who many of my students follow!)
Simply click ‘My Profile’ and then fill in the required questions.
Once you’ve made your profile, add ‘Areas of Interest’ and start following other authors. This will help Google Scholar recommend relevant articles for you in the future: Here’s the ‘Follow’ and ‘Areas of Interest’ links you might find useful:
Can you tell that I absolutely love Google Scholar? It saves time and increases my marks. What’s not to like? You need to know how to use Google Scholar!
In this post I’ve given you the advanced strategies that you need to use Google Scholar like a Pro. Use these strategies to navigate your way around, find top articles, save time, and grow your grades. Here’s a summary of the top 11 ways to use Google Scholar to grow your grades:
How to use Google Scholar Like a Pro
- Ditch Regular Google. Google Scholar Kicks its Butt.
- Use Google Scholar to find the most Relevant Articles (It is way better than your University Database)
- Use Google Scholar to bypass Paywalls
- Link Up Google Scholar with your University Database
- Use the ‘Cited By’ Method to find Newer (and more Relevant) Articles
- Use Google Scholar to Generate Citations
- Follow Author Links to find a Scholar’s Newest Articles
- Google Scholar and Google Books work Hand-In-Hand
- Bookmark Important Articles for Future Assignments
- Bookmark Important Articles for Future Assignments
- Create your own Google Scholar Profile