Are Wikipedia and Google Scholar the Devil?

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Well, no, but in spite of their name recognition and widespread use, they are still probably not the student researcher’s best friend. Let’s say you’re doing research on “nonverbal communication” and rely on these two free web-based resources for your research. Here’s what you’ll find.

You might start with Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”, for definitions or to provide a context for the subject you are tackling. A search on “nonverbal communication” turns up (at least it did today) a two-paragraph, easy-to-read definition of the term, with cross reference hyperlinks to other subjects. Something troubling about this definition, however, is that you’ll see “[citation needed]” four times in this short text. Wikipedia’s policy is that articles should contain only material that has been published by reliable sources, and that editors adding new material should cite them—but that’s not what always happens in practice. So, should you believe what you read here? If you cite in your paper what you find in Wikipedia, will that same content be there the next time anyone looks?

A search on “nonverbal communication” in Google Scholar returns over 44,000 hits, including references to books as well as articles. One cool feature is that for books, there is a library search that allows you to type in your zip code, which will then initiate a search for the book in libraries near you. You may find that the book you need is available at Regis, or at a public library near you. The articles that turn up at the top of this search sound interesting, and are indeed from scholarly sources such as The Journal of Nonverbal Behavior and Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, but these articles are dated from 1981 and 1986. In order to retrieve either article, you’ll need to go to a publisher’s web site and pay a fee—often from 20 to 30 dollars each.

So, what are your other options? Your tuition dollars subsidize both the licensing of library databases that provide the full text of the articles you need as well as interlibrary loan services that will get the articles you need from other libraries, at no additional cost.

Two library databases, Gale Virtual Reference Library and Xreferplus, provide full text articles from authoritative reference sources. For example, a search in Gale on “nonverbal communication” results in 30 hits from sources such as Gale Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, Encyclopedia of Management, International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis and Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. The same search in Xreferplus retrieves entries from American Heritage Dictionary, Mosby’s Medical, Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary, Collins Dictionary of Sociology, World of Criminal Justice and Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. In other words, these are the exact sources that Wikipedia entries should be citing—and that you should, too.

For articles on nonverbal communication, you could search in Academic Search Premier, Communication and Mass Media Complete, and PsycINFO. A search in Academic Search Premier, limited to scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, turns up 847 articles, of which 527 are full text. The 320 that are not full-text in this database may be available in another database, or can be ordered through interlibrary loan.

For books, Lumen (Regis Library catalog), Prospector (unified catalog for Colorado libraries and University of Wyoming) and WorldCat (yes, a worldwide library catalog) give you ways to figure out what’s available where, but also to directly request books if they’re not readily available to you.

Wikipedia and Google Scholar can be useful research tools when used properly. Wikipedia can often give you a place to start to understand concepts and for the leads that it provides to authoritative sources. Google Scholar can lead you to some web-published free articles that may not be available in library databases. It’s up to you to critically evaluate your sources, but also to manage your time and money to find what is most appropriate to your research, efficiently and without additional cost. Start your research at the library web page, http://www.regis.edu/library, and if you have questions, ask us!

Tom Riedel
Distance Services Librarian

21 Responses to “Wikipedia and Google Scholar…”


  1. 1 Marlene Forney February 6, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Tom:

    Very nice tool. At today’s Blended Librarian webcast the issue of reaching ‘Millennials’ was front & center. Certainly the 1st step is to meet people where they are. By acknowledging the key value of highly used tools like Wikipedia and Google Scholar we are more likely to get initial buy in from our user community.

    BTW our ‘oldest’ dept librarian is the one who discovered your resource while researching Regis U for his niece. It’s not about age alone, it’s about genuine committment to helping people meet their information needs. The Ref interview experience has to be carried out differently in virtual space.

    Marlene

  2. 2 Chris L. October 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Mr Riedel, i find your piece to be a bit ingenuous. Google Scholar has a number of methods for refining searches which you have chosen not to mention.

    One can specify date ranges to search if you wish to find information either from a specific time or if you wish to exclude older information. So your comment in this respect is really not quite accurate.

    Moreover, If one wished to look for research available specifically at the Regis library, it is a snap in Scholar. In fact I can select to search the libraries of many many universities. I am not sure yet how in the newest version of scholar. But if one goes to the Google Scholar start page and scrolls down to the bottom, you can select: “Revert to old venerable look” it changes the screen, Then click on Scholar Preferences next to the search box. This brings you to a page where one can specify which school libraries to search. When I enter Regis, this is what I get:

    “Show library access links for (choose up to three libraries):
    Open WorldCat – Library Search
    Regis College Library – Find@RegisCollege
    Regis University – Full-Text @ My Library
    REGIS UNIVERSITY – ProQuest Fulltext

    Online access to library subscriptions is usually restricted to patrons of that library. You may need to login with your library password, use a campus computer, or configure your browser to use a library proxy. Please visit your library’s website or ask a local librarian for assistance.”

    Moreover, anyone but a novice researcher knows that when you search for “Nonverbal Communication” you have used the broadest possible search term. But researchers are rarely searching for information in general, their search is more narrowly defined.

    So lets look at a few facts. Let me illustrate how a few changes designed to narrow a search change things:

    A search for Nonverbal Communication returns 458,000 results.
    Uncheck the boxes for patents and citations and it then returns 367,000 results.
    Choose to limit the date range to items from 2000-2012 and it returns 47,900 result.

    Now lets see what happens when the search terms become a bit more specific. Lets say one want to research nonverbal communication in children, so I add ” in children” to the search term. And now one will get back 30,990 results. And if I wanted to study this in infants, by adding infant to the term, it is now down to 16,300 results. And now I can refine it even further to eliminate just any of the search terms appearing to insisting that the exact term :nonverbal communication” must appear and suddenly that search returns a mere 7,290 result.

    So your term got 458,000 returns and mine 7,290. And further refinements are possible. As you can see, what you get back is determined by what you enter.

    The point is, the more skilled/experienced a researcher is in selecting search terms, and in using Google Scholar, the fewer total responses they will get and the more relevant the ones returned will be.

    Finally, for people like me who are not affiliated with an institution or corporation with subscription/membership rights to read full papers, Google Scholar is very useful. And a number of the results from Google Scholar will take one to the full article, not just the abstract. If a search return has an entry to the right of the item listed which appear in brackets and it says [pdf] or [html] at the beginning, this is a link to the full version.

    While I realize it is preferable to be able to access full university libraries, some of us can not do so. I think you are creating an unfair picture of how useful Google Scholar can be.

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