I use a variety of databases and research tools in my work, but there is one that I use for almost every project. Not Google, but Google Scholar (scholar.google.com). This search tool searches academic journals and collections of scholarly works. It is more multidisciplinary and international than Westlaw or Lexis, but HeinOnline is indexed as well, so law reviews are well represented.
Here are some features that make Google Scholar my favorite research tool.
1. Advanced search—Google Scholar accepts search terms in the familiar way Google does, but it also has advanced options that are more useful for scholarly research. To access advanced search, click on the small carrot on the right end of the search bar. In this example, I’m searching a particular author and an important term.
Yes, I’m searching for myself and my favorite legal topic, copyright. Yes, I’m going to use an article I wrote. Does this make me an egoist? Perhaps. But no one will complain I used them as an example.
2. Citations—I find following citations to be almost always superior to keyword searching. If I find one article on a topic, the citations usually lead me to another half dozen much more quickly than thinking up more searches. Google Scholar collects citations for each article. These citations are better than Westlaw and Lexis’s citations in that citations are collected from a broader range of articles. However, sometimes Google Scholar’s bots don’t recognize multiple copies of one article, so sometimes the citation lists have duplicates. Here, we can see my article has been cited by four articles (note that results 3 and 5 are duplicates).
3. Versions—Sometimes Google Scholar does recognize when the same article has been posted in multiple places online and collects them under one entry. You can see all the versions and then pick the one you prefer. This is nice because sometimes the first version is behind a publisher paywall, but another version is open access or in a database IU subscribes to. Here, we see that my article is in a number of places online.
4. Find it @ IU—When you’re in an IU network, it connects with Google Scholar and gives you a link on the right that takes you to a database that tells you if IU subscribes to a database containing the article. Here, we see that my article is in a few subscription databases, along with the open access spots we saw in the versions list.
5. How to Cite—Under each search result is a suggested citation for your footnotes or reference list. This is handy, but needs a couple caveats. First, Google Scholar doesn’t use Bluebook or ALWD style. The MLA, APA, and Chicago citations Google Scholar does give you have most of the information you need, but need some rearranging and abbreviating. Second, sometimes the citations are incomplete if the websites didn’t give the Google Scholar bots good bibliographic information.
These are the features in Google Scholar I use regularly when searching the academic literature. Google Scholar also lets you search some case law, which I will discuss in my next blog post.