Google Scholar vs. Library Databases
Google Scholar and library databases work fairly differently from each other. Most of these differences fall under:
These are discussed in more detail below. Overall, Google Scholar is a good place to start research, or to find a few articles for an overview of a topic, but relying on it exclusively may limit your research.
Relevance of Results
Google Scholar tends to generate many more results for searches than library databases. As shown, a search for “radiocarbon dating” in Academic Search Complete returns about 5,400 results, while the same search in Google Scholar returns 143,000 results.
More information may seem promising, but most of the extra results Google Scholar produces aren’t very relevant to the conducted search. There is less “noise” to wade through in library databases.
Quality of Results
Google Scholar does not exclusively index scholarly, peer-reviewed materials. Additionally, Google Scholar is not able to filter out non-scholarly materials, so users have to be particularly careful to evaluate the sources they find. Library databases, however, much more reliably contain high-quality resources and have tools to filter out non-academic results.
Many library databases focus on a single field of study, relying on subject experts to gather and organize legitimate scholarly resources. Google Scholar covers a multitude of subject areas, but again, this can result in a lot of “noise” in your search. On the other hand, Google Scholar’s coverage tends to be better in STEM fields compared to the social sciences or humanities. For topics in the social sciences or humanities, it’s especially important to consult library resources in addition to Google Scholar.
Google Scholar has very few features for refining search results. You can restrict results by publication date, and you can exclude patents and citations from your results.
Most importantly, Google Scholar does not have an option for limiting results to scholarly, peer-reviewed materials. Virtually all library databases do.
Library databases typically have a variety of options for refining search results. The exact options vary by database provider and subject, but publication date, peer review, material type (articles, books, conference proceedings, and so on), publication title, subject, and language are all especially common. Several examples are shown below.
Subjects: Physical Sciences, Health Sciences, Social Sciences
Using these options to filter your search results helps you find more relevant results, and to find them more quickly. As you can see, while the functionality of specific databases vary, they all offer you more control than Google Scholar–and, as discussed earlier, Google Scholar returns more irrelevant results to begin with.
Google Scholar automatically searches for terms related to the keywords you enter–even terms or phrases you enclose in quotation marks. Most library databases, however, only search for exactly what you type. While Google’s inclusion of related terms can be helpful at the start of the search process, it may muddy your results for more specific searches. You can always know exactly what a library database is searching.