Google Scholar – This is an extremely useful database of scholarly materials including books, articles, and journals. Now, oftentimes the entire book is not available for free. However, I have used this site MANY times in order to write research papers, because the information it “pulls up” is usually sufficient enough.
Google scholar is more than a practical application for students and researchers. It’s a search engine that’s specialized for a few specific types of professional research content. This specialized material comprises a small subset – a galaxy, perhaps – in the unending universe of information that comprises the web. But for professionals and students alike, it’s not just practical, it’s indispensible.
The service has two primary content types: legal and scientific. More importantly, it focuses on information from documented or published sources and thus excludes the vast and often tawdry world of the blogosphere and other unsubstantiated sources.
So what does it do for you as a student?
Geologists have recently suggested a new time period in geologic history: the Anthropocene. Some scholars believe that humans began to alter the course of earth history irrevocably as early as eight thousand years ago. The Anthropocene has been proposed as the geologic time period during which human engineering has had a substantial impact on the geologic record.
Suppose you’re a student and you want to write a paper about the Anthropocene for a class. If you Google “Anthropocene" with plain vanilla Google, you’ll get 330,000 hits. On the other hand, a simple search on Google Scholar yields 4100 hits – large, but far more manageable than 330,000! You can refine that search on either application, but before you do, take a look at the first ten hits from each.
Regular Google yields a variety of articles from sources like the New York Times and National Geographic. Not acceptable references for a university level science paper. Google Scholar yields a different set of results: all from scientific journals or the societies that publish them. Your professor will certainly accept references from publications like “American Journal of Science" and “Climatic Change."
You can narrow your search on either platform. But Google Scholar offers search options specifically tailored to academic research. Simple Google Scholar searches look for the key word throughout entire papers. By searching for the key word only in the title of the paper, you reduce your search results from 4100 to 178!
You can narrow your search further yet. You might want to figure out who first published the idea of the Anthropocene. In advanced search, select the years 1990-2000. No results. You’ve narrowed the field substantially! Moving the time frame to 2000-2002, you find a mere eight results.
The first paper listed, by P.J. Crutzen, has a link to the abstract in “Journal de Physique." With one click, you hit the abstract and discover that P.J. Crutzen proposed that the Anthropocene began in 1784 with the invention of the steam engine. Ba-da-Bing! Now, searching from 2003-2005, you discover that, in 2003, Crutzen revisited his initial idea in an editorial in “Climatic Change" on the basis of work by Ruddiman, who proposed backing up the start of the Anthropocene to 5000-8000 years ago. Ba-da-Boom! Off you go to search “Ruddiman."
In fifteen or twenty minutes, you’ve accomplished what would take hours hiking through the stacks in the library — if you’re at a major university. If you’re at a smaller school, the relevant papers and abstracts might not be available at all.
Google scholar is indeed a very practical application for students and researchers alike. The example here is from basic scientific research, but the tools work great for legal material as well.