McMaster University

Google Scholar

Google Scholar

A resource for health sciences research at McMaster?

Google Scholar: a search engine intended to help you search the Internet for scholarly literature that was introduced in November 2004.

Should I use Google Scholar for my research?

This depends on the nature of your research and your expectations for results.

The familiar search page of Google Scholar is simple to use and allows you to search across a number of databases and subject areas at one time. It provides a small but representative selection of scholarly research on most subject areas. When you are logged into the McMaster network (on campus or through LibAccess) you can link directly to the full text of articles in journals to which McMaster subscribes (see FAQ below for more on this). The "Advanced Scholar Search" option enables you to limit your search by author, publication and date. Google Scholar can be a helpful starting point for a search before you focus your topic and begin looking comprehensively for the highest quality information.

Using Google Scholar for Health Sciences Research

For research in the health sciences, particularly that of a clinical nature, which must be current, precise and from a trusted source, Google Scholar is insufficient. Google has not released information regarding which databases it searches or when it is updated, making it difficult to determine how comprehensive your search has been. It is also difficult to determine what Google Scholar includes as ‘scholarly research’, leaving you, the searcher, to make this often difficult distinction for yourself.

Google Scholar has a number of strengths, although it is not a complete resource. It should be used in conjunction with other resources the libraries provide.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Google Scholar



Easy to use

  • Simple & familiar interface with ability to do keyword searches
  • Ability to search over a number of databases at one time
  • Searches a variety of material types including books, journals, websites

Limited search capabilities

  • No medical subject headings (MeSH) or Boolean operators
  • You don’t know which databases you are searching
  • Can’t specify which material type you would like, for example, journals only
  • No ability to sort by author, title, date, publication

Searches for scholarly materials

Not sure how ‘scholarly’ is defined, some materials are questionable

Good for an overview of materials on a subject area

Difficult to perform a specific search with precise results

Displays number of citations for each article and links to list of those citing

Questionable reliability of the number of citations compared with Science Citation Index

Brings the most relevant materials (according to Google Scholar) to the top of the list

Relevance is based partially on times cited, therefore older articles may come up first

Provides links to full text of both free articles and those in journals to which McMaster subscribes

No information about how frequently Google Scholar is updated


What areas of science and technology are covered by Google Scholar?

Google Scholar covers a wide range of academic areas; however it appears that it provides better coverage of literature in the area of science and technology than in the humanities. Although Google Scholar also points to literature in the health sciences, it does not provide the most current or comprehensive information available.

Just as with Google's standard web search, Google Scholar ranks and lists results according to how relevant they are to the search query. The most relevant references should, theoretically, appear at the top of the page.

What does "Cited by" mean?

The term "Cited by" appears with a number beside articles in Google Scholar. The "Cited by" number refers to the number of authors who have referred to this paper in their own work. Clicking on the "Cited by" link will take you to a list of all of the articles which have cited the document you clicked from. Keep in mind that Google Scholar only includes articles that are indexed within its database, and this is a much smaller collection of articles than can be found in other McMaster University-subscribed databases. The Science Citation Index (which can be found in Web of Science) is the primary source for citation-based searching and may yield more comprehensive results.


How do I retrieve the full text of articles?

Google Scholar points to articles in both subscribed journals and in freely available full text resources on the Internet.

To access the articles in journals to which McMaster subscribes from on campus, use a computer or laptop connected to the McMaster University Computer network.

To get links to full-text from off campus, set up your preferences in Google Scholar:

  1. from the Google Scholar home page, click Scholar Preferences
  2. in the Library Links field, type mcmaster
  3. on the results list select McMaster University Library - get it @ Mac
  4. click Save Preferences

Your search results in Google Scholar will now have find it @ Mac links you can click on to get to the full-text in the library's electronic collection.


Why can’t I access full text of articles when I search from home?

You must be logged into LibAccess from your home computer in order to get access to full text of articles in journals to which McMaster subscribes. Check that "LibAccess" appears somewhere in the URL address.

Why am I being asked for payment?

The hyperlinked titles in Google Scholar may lead you to documents which appear in subscription databases to which McMaster does not subscribe and you may be asked to pay for access. To maximize your ability to access full-text, ensure that your computer is connected to the McMaster University computer network (on campus) or that you are logged into LibAccess. Try clicking the “Getit@Mac” link in your citation in Google Scholar to open the McMaster University “Get It!” window. If the document is definitely not available at McMaster, the material may be requested through RACER (interlibrary loan) for a small charge. More on RACER and Interlibrary Loan.

Can I search within a particular journal or for articles by a particular author?

Yes. In the "Advanced Scholar Search" screen, Google Scholar offers the option to enter an author name or the name of a particular journal.

I am not finding the information that I need. Where else should I try searching?

The Health Sciences Library provides you with access to a number of print and electronic resources. The Health Sciences Library web site is a great place to start:

For a guide to some of the library resources check out our Resource Guides. Then choose your discipline: Nursing, Occupational Therapy, etc.

Where can I get more help?

The staff at the Information Desk will be happy to assist you with your research. We can be reached in person or by phone (905.525.9140 X 22327) from Monday to Thursday, 9am – 7pm and on Fridays from 9am – 5pm during the fall and winter terms, and from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, throughout the rest of the year.

Neera Bhatnagar, Head of Systems / Coordinator of Research and Graduate Education Support