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OCTH 5903 - Research in Occupational Therapy: Searching Public Databases

Evaluating Websites

It's important to remember that publishing on the web is very easy - almost anyone can do it! The problem with that is knowing what's credible (worth your time) and what's not. 

There are five main criteria to use when evaluating a website:

  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Currency
  • Objectivity
  • Coverage

Some important things to look at or for in a website include:

  • the URL (.gov, .mil, .us, .edu are usually pretty credible); 
  • links to information about the author or sponsoring organization; 
  • links to other sites that are credible; 
  • the currency of the page (is it updated regularly?);
  • no broken links.

Ultimately the researcher must be the one to determine whether or not to use information found on a website. Below are some links to websites that provide some excellent guidelines for evaluating resources and websites:

Searching with Google Scholar

Even librarians use Google Scholar! Improve your searching by learning tricks of the trade using advanced features of Google Scholar.

Google describes Google Scholar in this way: "Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research."

This page of the Guide covers the benefits and limitations of Google Scholar and plenty of tips and tricks for getting the most out of it.

Google Scholar Search

Before searching Google Scholar, it's a good idea to set your preferences to connect to the NSU Library and any other libraries you have access to. Doing so will allow you to discover articles through the Library's subscription databases. You can change your settings by clicking the "hamburger" menu in the upper left, choosing Settings, and then Library Links. You can search for libraries and add them there. Need more help? Click the link below or contact your friendly librarian.

Is Google Scholar right for my research?

When using Google Scholar, it is helpful to keep these questions in mind:

  • What features does it have to help me get relevant results?
  • What does this tool do well?
  • What does it do poorly?

As a research tool, Google Scholar is good for many tasks, and not as good for others. When deciding whether to use Google Scholar or one of the Library's subscription databases, please keep the following in mind:

Google Scholar is good for...

  • Helping a beginning researcher identify journal titles and authors connected with subjects of interest.
  • Finding "gray literature" like conference proceedings. It includes many articles that wouldn't get included in other indexing services.
  • Locating obscure references that are proving difficult to find in conventional databases.
  • Accessing books and articles in a single search.
  • Locating more information on partial citations.

Google Scholar cannot...

  • Sort/search by disciplinary field
  • Browse by title
  • Limit search results
  • Search the deep web

Keep in Mind:

  • You may get a long list of results, but you will only have access to the text of articles that the NSU Library has paid subscriptions for, or that are freely available.
  • Not everything in Google Scholar is scholarly. Google Scholar searches academic websites (.edu) as well as journals and publisher websites. Search results can include PowerPoints, news announcements or unpublished materials as well as articles and books. 
  • It is difficult to determine with 100% accuracy all that Google Scholar searches. Therefore, we do not know the breadth of what Google Scholar is indexing and consequently cannot judge the comprehensiveness or completeness of the results of a literature search.
  • We cannot tell how frequently items in Google Scholar are updated.
  • Searching in Google Scholar is imprecise when compared with discipline-specific databases.

More Strategies

Sorting Results

Once you have started searching in Google Scholar, there are limiters on the left side of your search results. These limiters are there to help narrow your search results to a manageable number (between 30-80 sources). Limiters include such options as Article Type and Time Period. In addition to narrowing your search, you can sort the results by time, relevance (this is deemed by Google), and you can choose to include/exclude Patents and Citations. 

Advanced Searching

Google Scholar casts a wide net when searching which often means you will need to make your search more specific. Using the "advanced search" feature is the easiest way to narrow your results. You can go to the advanced search page by clicking on the arrow on the right end of the Google Scholar search box.

Locating Articles

Looking at a single result, we have a few options to find the item. The options highlighted below allow you to do the following:

  • "Cited By" will show you a list of works that cited this article.
  • "Related Articles" will direct you to articles on the same or a similar subject.
  • "Discover NSU Full Text" will direct you to library databases that contain the article.

Quick Tips

Not finding what you want? Try some of these tricks:

  • Try to only use first initials when searching for author names. Many articles only include the first initial of the author.
  • Abbreviations of journal names are often used, e.g. J Biol Chem rather than Journal of Biological Chemistry.
  • Keep in mind that Google Scholar gathers bibliographical data from text and citations, including pre-prints, which may include incomplete information. Often, when searching in Google Scholar, less is more.
  • Try Advanced Search to give Google more specific information about what you hope to find

Incorporating Google Scholar into Your Research

Google Scholar searches specifically for scholarly materials such as journal articles, research reports, dissertations and theses, preprints, technical reports, patents, manuscripts in preparation, working papers and many other document types.

When you do a search in Google Scholar, you get a list of citations. You'll get links to the full text in the following cases:

  • if a library you have linked to subscribes to the journal title
  • if it's from an open access journal
  • if the researcher posted the article on her/his website*
  • if the article is available on a paper-sharing website like or ResearchGate**
  • if the article is available from the publisher for a fee

We don't really know how Google Scholar indexes items, but this is how Google Scholar defines the weighting system:

"Google Scholar aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature." The most relevant results will always appear on the first page (see the "About Google Scholar link below).

Remember, Google's goal is to make the world of information accessible and useful. It is still up to researchers to critically evaluate research materials.

*Note that such articles are often the manuscript version or a pre-publication proof. You always need to check direct quotes and page numbers in the published article.

**Note that there may be problems with articles posted to sites like these. Follow the link below to learn more.

If you don't see a way to access the full text of an article you find on Google Scholar, or if it links you to the publisher's website where you are asked to pay for full text, there is another alternative!

You can obtain many articles through our Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service, which is a way for us to provide access to materials not held in our collections. ILL services are available to all students, faculty, and staff of the NSU community at no charge. 

Google does not search the deep web (aka Deepnet, invisible web or hidden web). These terms refer to World Wide Web content that is not part of the surface Web indexed by search engines. It is estimated that the deep Web is several orders of magnitude larger than the surface Web (see the below link "About the Deep Web"). This means that Google Scholar cannot find everything that might be of use to you.

Google Scholar Tips Videos