By Anne-Wil Harzing

Online research profiles such as LinkedIn, ResearchGate, and Google Scholar Profiles, and social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogging are becoming more important in academia. However, it can be hard to keep your online profiles up-to-date and free of errors. At the same time, doing so can be considered an ethical obligation for researchers. Although there might be valid (and not so valid) reasons for not creating the various online profiles, once you have created such a profile it is your responsibility to ensure it is accurate and free of errors.

With regard to Google Scholar profiles this means ensuring that the publications listed on your profile are both complete and accurate. Just like you wouldn’t list non-existent degrees or job experiences on your LinkedIn profile, it is an ethical obligation to ensure that your Google Scholar Profiles only lists publications and citations that are yours.

What is a Google Scholar Profile?

A Google Scholar Profile is a list of all your publications that can be found in Google Scholar, including the number of citations to each of them and a visual representation of the development of your citations over time. The screenshot below shows the top part of my profile.

example of a Google Scholar profile

Why do I need a Google Scholar Profile?

Google Scholar Profiles are increasingly used by academics, Deans, and research administrators to get a quick overview of an academic’s publications, citations and research interests.

Google Scholar is the most comprehensive source of publication and citation data for the Social Sciences. It generally includes more publications and citations than the traditional data sources: the Web of Science and Scopus. As you can read here, traditional data sources favor the STEM disciplines. On average an academic in International Business will have 3 to 6 times as many citations in Google Scholar than in the Web of Science. This difference will be even larger if you publish in languages other than English.

This is because rather than working with a list of approved journals, Google Scholar simply parses academic publications from what it can find on the web. Hence, any journal publications that can be found on websites with an academic focus will be covered in Google Scholar. Moreover, Google Scholar also includes non-journal publications, such as books, book chapters, conference papers, white papers, and even – as you can see in my profile above – software.

Don’t have a Google Scholar Profile yet?

Creating a profile is very quick and simple. Unless you have a very common name, you should be able to do this in less than 5 minutes.

  1. You’ll need a Google account before you can begin – use your existing account or create one.
  2. Go to (or your country’s equivalent) and click on ‘My profile’
  3. Follow the instructions, adding your affiliation information and your University email address. (Remember to validate the email address – you’ll receive an email asking you to do this).
  4. Add a link to your University home page or your favourite online profile.
  5. Add a photo if you want to personalise your profile.
  6. Click on ‘Next step’ to create your basic profile.
  7. Add your publications – Google will provide you with a list of suggestions and ask you to confirm that they are yours. Please note:
    • Be careful if you have a common name as publications by others may be included in the suggestions.
    • There may also be some types of articles that you don’t want to include. Google also indexes content such as newsletters, book reviews, and sometimes even editorial board membership lists. It is up to you to decide whether these would enhance or detract from your profile.
  8. Make your profile public – this means that others will be able to find it and discover your body of work. Otherwise, you will be the only one who is able to see it, which defeats the whole purpose of creating a profile in the first place.

How do I keep my profile up-to-date?

There are two ways to keep your profile up-to-date. The easiest way to do this is to use the default settings when setting up your profile. This means Google Scholar automatically adds any publications that its algorithm thinks are yours. So, whenever you have a new publication, Google Scholar will automatically add it.

This may seem a tempting option as it involves no additional work. However, it creates two problems. First, the Google Scholar algorithm will add anything that carries your name. This includes not just legitimate journal publications, book, chapters and other publications that you are proud of, but also “rubbish”. Because Google Scholar draws its information from the web without any human intervention, it occasionally finds “publications” that are not real publications. Here are some publications it found for me:

sample google scholar citations

The first two are clearly nonsense and the third is a data parsing error. I was accidentally added as an author on a paper in the same issue of a journal in which I had published a paper. For most academics these errors are rare and “rubbish” publications typically don’t have any citations. Hence, they don’t appear at the top of your profile. However, they still pollute your profile. If you sort your profile by year some of these rubbish publications might obscure your real academic contributions.

Second, the Google Scholar algorithm will add anything it thinks you have published. This algorithm works well if – like me – you are the only academic publishing under your last name, or the only one with a specific combination of initial/first name and last name.

a list of citations credited to an author with the common last name of Zhang

However, the algorithm falls down if you have “namesakes”, i.e., academics with an identical name. If you are called for instance Garcia, Johnson, Kim, Lee, Li, Martin, Müller, Patel, Rossi, Sato, Silva, Smith, or Zhang, you are likely to have many academic namesakes, unless you have a very unique first name and you never publish with your initials only. If you have such a common name, your profile might very quickly look like the above profile by a business management student, making it impossible to even find your own publications.

Please note that this problem is by no means limited to Google Scholar. Scopus and the Web of Science are better in author disambiguation as they use additional criteria such as disciplinary area. However, their disambiguation is by no means perfect. For a hilarious example of the lack of disambiguation in the Web of Science, see:  Health Warning: Might Contain Multiple Personalities

How do I avoid my profile becoming polluted?

Simply change the default automatic addition of publications to manual, so that you can quickly verify publications before they are added. Adding a publication is as simply as clicking on a link in an update email alert from Google Scholar.

To put your updates on manual, login to your profile and simply click on the + sign next to TITLE and chose “Configure article updates”.

cursor selecting the "configure article updates" menu

In the next screen click “Don’t automatically update my profile. Send me email to review and confirm updates”.

illustration of user selecting to disable automatic updates on Google Scholar

How do I clean up my profile once it is polluted?

If you have created a Google Scholar profile a long time ago and didn’t put your additions on manual, your profile might include publications in there that are not authored by you. To fix this, review all publications listed in your profile to assess whether they are your publications and delete any that are not from your profile. Obviously, this would also be a good time to put any further updates on manual.

In this process, you can also merge any publication duplicates. These are different versions of the same publication, created because academics have made a (small) mistake in referencing your publication. Simply tick the boxes in front of the publications that need to be merged and click merge. Sorting by publication title makes it easier to find duplicates. If you have many publications it might be easier to use a Publish or Perish GS Profile search to spot duplicates. You will get a compact overview of your publications and the ability to sort on all fields, not just title and year.

What if I no longer have access to my Google Scholar Profile?

This may happen if someone else has created the account for you and has disappeared without a trace or if you created a Google account with an email address you no longer have access to. In that case, you can write to Google to delete your profile, but from what I have heard from colleagues in this situation it is rare to get a satisfactory answer to your request.

The next best option seems to be to create a new profile and ensure you keep this profile up-to-date and clean. This obviously runs the risk of profile confusion. However, if your other profile is out-of-date and/or includes papers from another discipline, most academics will understand what your correct profile is. In order to emphasize this, you could consider using one of the five allowed discipline labels to say something like “correct profile”.

Need further help?

If you need further help or you would like to enhance your Google Scholar Profile and start using it to keep up-to-date with research in your field, these resources might be useful.

The following resources provide you with more detail about Google Scholar as a data source and show that correct author attribution is a problem in any data source.

Finally, here are the links included in this article.

Professor Anne-Wil Harzing
Middlesex University London, United Kingdom
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