Chapter 2: Locating information

2.4 Google Scholar

Google Scholar is similar to Google except that it typically excludes non-scholarly web content because its primary purpose is to find scholarly materials. These include journal articles, books, patents, legal documents, reports, and more. However, there’s no easy way to separate journal articles from other resources covered by Google Scholar, including some digitized books and scholarly websites. You may also find things you wouldn’t expect like course syllabi and PowerPoint slides.

One of the most important things to understand about Google Scholar is where its content comes from because that determines if and how you can access it. Much of the material you find there comes directly from the open web. For example, it’s common to see pdf files from researchers’ websites, open access articles, and similar links in your Google Scholar search results. These types of materials are available to anyone, anywhere. You shouldn’t have to log in to any website or database to access these materials.

Mixed in with these open web materials, you’ll also find paywalled materials, including subscription journal articles and e-books. In most cases you can still access these, though it may take a few steps. Google Scholar has a feature that provides members of the ISU community with links for materials covered by ISU subscriptions. To set this up, follow the steps on the Google Scholar Library Guide. Below are some strengths and weaknesses to consider when using Google Scholar.

Strengths and weaknesses of Google Scholar


  • Simple to search and mobile-friendly
  • A good choice if you have a partial citation, missing some information on a specific item
  • Can find free versions of articles, although most items will not be free to access by default
  • Can be linked to the ISU Library for greater access to subscription-only content


  • Difficult to focus or refine your search
  • Finds things that are not journal articles, even when you limit your search to articles only
  • Lists older articles before newer ones that haven’t been referenced as frequently yet


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