Web of Science and Google Scholar: Which to use?

Both! No question about it. Use both. But definitely use Web of Science. Don’t just stick to Google Scholar. And that’s my worry. When I hear students say how they found an article or searched for literature, I’m hearing Scholar. That’s fine. But it’s not good enough. Let me explain.

Google Scholar is a brilliant resource. Three reasons: (1) It’s incredibly up-to-date. It searches for articles that haven’t yet been published in a journal, or might never be. (2) Its scope is fantastic. It finds articles in places that, say, the Web of Science doesn’t yet look. (3) It’s online, all the time, without a wall you need to jump over: no logging in, no going to the library web site first. It’s easy to get to. Everyone should be using it. Most are.

That said, everyone should also be using Web of Science. Not enough are. One reason: Its scope might be narrower and it won’t be as up-to-date as Scholar, but Web of Science has some tools that make searching through its database incredibly helpful. I’ve yet to demonstrate it to a student without them saying ‘oh wow’.

Here are three cool ways you can customize your search. You can search for a topic ā€“ say, ‘governance’ ā€“ and you’ll get thousands of results. But you can then (1) refine the results to specify a subject area, such as geography, to see what geographers have written about the topic; (2) refine these results to specify a source title, such as Geoforum, to see what geographers have written about governance in that journal; and (3) rank the results by date of publication, times cited, or first author depending on what you need.

There are tons of other little ways to customize your search. You can refine by publication type e.g. just bring up book reviews, or just get rid of book reviews in your results. Search within results for a specific term e.g. is there a paper on governance in Geoforum that discusses Zimbabwe? Yes, there are three. And you can search an article’s history i.e. the references the author used to put it together, and then the article’s future i.e. who’s cited it since publication.

Sure. You can also do some of this in Scholar. But I still insist: you should also be using Web of Science and if you do, your grasp of what’s out there will improve.

Alistair Fraser

ps. Maynooth students: find Web of Science via this link on the Library’s web page.



  1. […] pays Thomson-Reuters, the paper will be indexed on the Web of Science, an extremely powerful (but limited) search resource, and might turn up on someone’s search and be […]


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