Using Google Scholar to search for – and keep up with – scholarly publications

You may be using Google for your research. You may even have Google alerts set up to let you know if any new hits come up for your favorite search(es). But have you tried Google scholar for published works?

From the Google Scholar “about” page:

Stand on the shoulders of giants.

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.


For example, you could search for “genetic genealogy.”


Hmm. More than 2,000 results. Good to know, but more than I’m interested in right now. How about looking for some of the latest publications about the topic? Say since 2017?


Brings it down to “only” 271 results. You can also click “custom range” to define the range of dates to include.



Want to keep up with new publications? Create an alert for a Google Scholar search to be emailed when new results appear in Google Scholar matching your search criteria.



Cited Reference Searches

Say after reading a published paper, you want to see what else has been done – has anything new come out on the topic? You can use Google Scholar to see what publications have cited your paper of interest.

For example, Han et al. 2017, Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America.

By searching for the title on Google Scholar, you can find the paper (and link to the full text on the Nature Communications site).


But if you look below the paper’s title and abstract, you can see “Cited by 12” – which shows that this paper has been referenced by 12 publications that appear in Google Scholar. If you click that “Cited by 12” link, you see a list (with links) for those 12 publications:


This list is useful on its own, suggesting additional publications. But, there’s more you can do with it.


You can create an alert for this citation list – so, anytime something new is published citing Han et al., you can be notified.


Another useful tool is the “search within citing articles” check box. You can use this to search just within this list. Say your list of citing articles has not just 12, but hundreds of results, and you don’t want to click through every page of results. Check the box, then search in main search bar for a keyword or two to narrow down your list. Maybe an author’s name, a region (like “Africa” or “France”), or something else can help to narrow down your list of results.


Trouble getting to a publication behind a paywall? Look for other versions

The first result shown above in the articles citing Han et al. is a paper published in Science: Kaplanis et al. 2018, Quantitative analysis of population-scale family trees with millions of relatives. If you click the main link to the paper (the paper’s title in blue text), it will take you to the journal’s website, where you will see that you have to pay $30 to have access to the full text if you don’t have a subscription.


Or, in this case, you can just click the pdf link next to the paper’s name on Google Scholar and get it for free from a different site. This won’t be available for all articles, but it’s worth checking. You can also try the “All xxx versions” link at the bottom of the paper’s information to see if there are other versions elsewhere with better access.


Not Google Scholar, but Related

One other related tip for finding useful sources for information related to a publication. Some journals display metrics about published papers on their website. For example, see the Altmetric box for the Han et al. paper on Nature Communications:


…and then click “More detail.” It will bring you to a new page with metrics about how the paper has been used and discussed online so far.


First, there are mentions of total citations (with three different citation databases shown here). These will likely overlap with the citations listed on Google Scholar, but are not the exact same lists (different tools likely consider different sets of “published” works to determine which cite this paper).

You can also see that (as of 8 June 2018), more than 900 people mentioned the paper in tweets, and numerous others posted about it on blogs, Facebook, Google+, and more. If you scroll down on the page, you can actually see a list of the news articles and other posts about this paper – you can see who’s been talking about it, and click on links to read what they’ve said.


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