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Search methods & techniques: Google vs library resources?

Should I be using Google or the library resources?

Unfortunately, it’s not simply a matter of choosing one or the other. Internet search engines like Google can search billions of public web pages for your keywords in seconds, but they cannot access proprietary data. The library pays for access to databases containing scholarly resources that cannot all be found using internet search engines. Don’t miss these valuable resources!

Internet research provides quick results but verifying that information can be time consuming. While the library sources have been preselected and evaluated by experts for quality and usefulness, with Internet research, you have to figure out by yourself what is useful and what is not.

Search in Google for a random term, and you are likely to come up with an average of a few thousand pages of which you can view up to a thousand. Most people do not look beyond the first and ten (sponsered and page-ranked) hits and therefore miss relevant sources.

So, you now know that using Internet sources involves a certain risk. That does not mean that they cannot be useful for your research. Why pick and choose if you can use both?

Watch the excellent video Should I be using Google or the Library resources for a paper? (1:40)

Google vs PsycINFO

Why do you have to use an academic database, like Scopus or PsycINFO? Is Google Scholar, a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature, not enough? To let you experience the differences between Google Scholar and academic database, an example:

You want to find research on the use of and the effectiveness of ‘motivational interviewing’ with adolescents (age 13 to 17 years). This is a new topic for you, so to get an overview of the research done so far, you want to find systematic reviews, literature reviews and meta analyses first.

A query in PsycINFO could be:

  1. Motivational interviewing as Subject Heading
  2. Limit by Age group (Adolescence <age 13 to 17 yrs>)
  3. Limit by Methodology (Literature Review, Systematic Review & Meta Analysis)

The result is 21 articles (on December 18, 2023). 

A query in Google Scholar could be:

  1. "motivational interviewing" adolescence "literature review" OR "systematic review" OR "meta analysis"
  2. Limit to Review articles.

The result is 9.370 results (on December 18, 2023)

Now, scan the first pages of results. How many results are relevant to your specific information need? 
Note: Google Scholar and Google Search do not use the asterisk for truncation (a.k.a. stemming). To find variations of a word in Google Search or Google Scholar just type in the singular form of the word. The noun adolescence will be stemmed as: adolescence, adolescent, adolescents, adolescents' and even young adult. The asterisk can be used as a proximity operator in Google Search or Google Scholar to find an unknown word in a phrase search.
Note: When you scan titles in Google Scholar, the text below the title is not the abstract. The text sometimes comes from the reference list of the article.

So why pick and choose when you can use both?

  • In Google Scholar you find more results, because the ‘universe’ of Google Scholar is bigger than in PsycINFO (which focuses on the field of psychology). However, when you move through the pages, you will never see more than 1000 results.
  • In Google Scholar not all results are relevant: the search terms appear anywhere in the record, including the reference list. You will have to scroll through the results to see which result is relevant. In PsycINFO you can make use of the information added to the records, to make your search more specific and the results found more relevant. 
  • Google Scholar doesn’t show the abstract under the title, but a part of the full-text where the search terms appear. In PsycINFO you can add the abstract to the list of results by selecting the Abstract view (the button with four horizontal stripes at the top of the results). This makes it easier to screen the results.
  • Google Scholar has no options to analyse the results, for example to find out who is the most productive author in the field or in which journals publish about your research topic.