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Social Sciences: Google Scholar (pros and cons)

Subject guide for social science courses: criminology / sociology


  • Quick to access (no password required)
  • Quick to enter some words in the search box
  • Quick to find some relevant results
  • Helps you to identify who has subsequently referenced a source 

Library Links is a tool in Google Scholar that can help identify when the full text is available through your library subscriptions. 


  • Limited full text content; by default Google Scholar can only provide access to 'free' Open Access articles
  • Many newly published 'free' articles will only be available through a university subscription for the first 3-24 months
  • Google Scholar does not automatically tell you if BU can provide access to a source (Library Links can help in part - see above)
  • Access to full text library subscriptions via Google Scholar will often appear automatically on campus but not off campus
  • Difficult to search thoroughly as too many results returned
  • Unclear what Google Scholar is searching
  • No peer review limiter
  • Does not provide abstracts for export

  is a popular tool used for finding academic sources on the internet. It has its advantages and disadvantages which are important to understand when you are studying at university. We normally consider Google Scholar an 'additional' tool to be used in conjunction with search tools provided by the University Library. 

By default Google Scholar can only provide full text access to content made freely available on the internet, such as journal articles published 'Open Access,' meaning you may miss out on all the full text content to which BU library subscribes. A study in 2018 by Piwowar et al. concluded that 28% of journal articles are available free in full text online, with the percentage increasing to 45% for articles published in 2015, the last year covered by their study.

Piwowar, H., Priem, J., Larivière, V., Alperin, J. P., Matthias, L., Norlander, B., Farley, A., West, J. and Haustein, S., 2018. The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ - Life and Environment [online], 6, e4375.