Comparing Google Scholar and specialised bibliographic search engines 1

Google scholar and specialized bibliography services like Econlit and JSTOR seem to have different strengths and should be used in different ways

I started using Google Scholar with a vengeance when it started. It has an ease that other providers do not: there is no need to log in, there is no need for subscription and it seems to pull out articles that other service providers just did not. In no time, Google Scholar also started providing links to my citation manager – Refworks. But soon I started realising various limitations of Google Scholar. Here’s a brief assessment of the strength of google scholar versus other search providers.


Google Scholar is free and accessible to all, but for students enrolled in many universities (specially in the developed world), this is not a constraint since universities provide free access to their students.

Depth of coverage

I think this is the major strength of Google scholar. In one swoop one can search books, journals and on one occasion I found even a paper that a friend of mine had hosted in her website (but published in a reasonably good journal). In terms of depth of coverage, I think google scholar scores well over most other specialised search engines.

But this is not always a plus point when we wish to narrow our search. There are certainly advantages to looking at “food security” in an economic or agricultural database to searching in google that would index even biotechnology papers – something I can do without at times!

Citation support

In my view this is the major weakness of Google scholar compared to other services. One very irritating feature is that it does not provide the first name of authors in full. I like to have the full given name of the author in my citations, but when I import citations from Google, I have to go and update the names each time.Plus one major advantage of using JSTOR or OCLC is that the citations also have an abstract, that google does not. This is one great reason not to use google scholar, if we can avoid it.

There is one other technical advantage of searching through paid service providers. Often I look for articles from home. When I click on the article in google scholar it often takes me to a journal with paid content and then I have to start all the way from the library website (but armed with the names of the article). If I used a paid service instead, I would be logged into the proxy server already and I can download articles in one swoop – this is a major time saver.

I intend to expand on this post as and when I find new (dis)advantages of using Google scholar versus other bibliographic search engines

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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