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Google Scholar: 13 search tips

Thirteen tips that you may apply to improve your searching with Google Scholar.

  1. Personalize your search experience. You can find the Settings for Google Scholar in the upper right corner. In the Scholar Settings you can specify how the search results should be presented to you and which collection should be searched. Also, under Bibliography manager you can enable a link for exporting results (one by one) to references management software (e.g. EndNote). Another option under Scholar Settings is Library links which enables you to select library access links for up to five libraries. Also, under Scholar Settings you can specify the languages for which Google Scholar should be searched.
  2. There is more than one Google. Do you only use the standard Google web search engine? For academics, Google Scholar, Google Books, Google Patents are important specific search interfaces.
  3. Learn from the advanced search interface. The arrow to the right of search box brings up the advanced search window that lets you search in the author, title, and publication fields, or limits your search results by date. By using this option to see what the possibilities of the specific search interface are, you learn how you can make use of these advanced search operators in the normal search interface. When you make use of the advanced search options in Google Scholar you see an option to search for a specific author which translates in the Scholar search box as [“nitrogen fixation” author:”KE Giller”].
  4. Be specific or search with more than 1 term. When searching more words, by default Google Scholar applies the AND operator to obtain results that contain (combinations of) all words that you have searched for. In the Dutch language we can often get away with searching for a single word, because we are allowed to make incredibly long compound words such as “rioolwaterzuiveringsinstallatie”. In English you can’t make compound words. The translation for this compound word then would be “sewage treatment plant”. This is a small language difference which necessitates searching with more words. But apart from the language difference, when you search with more words, searches become more specific and the results more relevant.
  5. Keep words together. Put your search between quotes, e.g.“water management”. A phrase search is a search which returns the words in exactly the order you specified. This technique reduces the sheer number of possible results. You can combine as many phrases as you like, or make them really long (the latter is also used in plagiarism checks).
  6. Search with OR. In some occasions the intelligence of Google Scholar doesn’t include obvious synonyms. With the OR operator you can combine search terms e.g. [“carbon dioxide” OR CO2]. Notice that OR should in capitals.
  7. Search for title words. By default, Google Scholar searches for terms appearing anywhere in the article. You can limit your search to terms only appearing the title of the article with “allintitle:” e.g. [allintitle: "water management"]
  8. Search for information in PDF files. A lot of scientific information is published as PDF file. Search e.g. ["Agaricus bisporus" filetype:pdf]. A couple of years ago this was an extremely efficient way to look for scholarly information. However, since it has become very easy to produce your own PDF files, this technique has suffered some of its effectiveness, but it still works wonders. Especially in combination with the other tips.
  9. Results from a specific domain. Sometimes you want to restrict your results to a certain website or domain. This is certainly handy for sites that don’t have good site search options e.g. ["plant diseases"]. You can also limit the results to academic institutions of the USA ["plant diseases"].
  10. Find similar articles. Search for similar articles via the link “Related articles” under each article.
  11. Search for number ranges. This comes in handy when you want to limit your search to results from certain publication years. In Google Scholar you can specify the years you want to search for under “Custom range…” in the filter menu at the left of the page with search results. Alternatively, you may specify the publication years in the advanced search interface under “Return articles dated between”.
  12. Exclude specific terms with the – operator. You can narrow your searches using this operator. You can exclude as many words as you want by using the - sign in front of all of them, for example [mercury -ford -freddy -outboards -planets].
  13. Combine. You can combine most of these operators. In this way you can do very precise searches [japan "phytosanitary regulation" author:wingfield].

    You can find further information at About Google Scholar.