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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Google for Scholars

A guide on techniques for researchers to increase their skills with Google's various search options.

Introduction

Google is a large search engine which can search very generally or very specifically. While you probably already use Google in your daily life, this guide will explore ways to use Google to meet your research needs.

For more hands-on examples and help, attend one of our Google for Scholars Savvy Researcher Workshops.

General Search Tips

Some basic facts

  • Every word matters. Generally, all the words you put in the query will be used.
  • Searches are always case insensitive. A search for [ new york times ] is the same as a search for [ New York Times ].
  • Generally, punctuation is ignored, including special characters. However, there is a growing list of punctuation that Google will search in specific cases.

Tips for better searches

  • Keep it simple.

If you're looking for a particular company, just enter its name, or as much of its name as you can recall. If you're looking for a particular concept, place, or product, start with its name. If you're looking for a pizza restaurant, just enter pizza and the name of your town or your zip code. Most queries do not require advanced operators or unusual syntax. Simple is good.

  • Think how the page you are looking for will be written.

A search engine is not a human: it is a program that matches the words you give to pages on the web. Use the words that are most likely to appear on the page. For example, instead of saying [ my head hurts ], say [ headache ], because that's the term a medical page will use. The query [ in what country are bats considered an omen of good luck? ] is very clear to a person, but the document that gives the answer may not have those words. Instead, use the query [ bats are considered good luck in ] or even just [ bats good luck ], because that is probably what the right page will say.

  • Describe what you need with as few terms as possible.

The goal of each word in a search query is to focus it further. Since all words are used, each additional word limits the results. If you limit too much, you can miss a lot of useful information. Alternately, Google might search for some, not all of the terms, giving you results that aren't relevant. There is a main advantage to starting with fewer keywords: if you don't get what you need, the results can give you a good indication of what additional words are needed to refine your results on the next search. For example, [ weather cancun ] is a simple way to find the weather and it is more likely to give better results than the longer [ weather report for cancun mexico ].

  • Choose descriptive words.

The more unique the word is, the more likely you are to get relevant results. Words that are not very descriptive, like 'article,' 'website,' 'company,' or 'info,' are usually not needed. Keep in mind, however, that even if the word has the correct meaning but it is not the one most people use, it may not match the pages you need. For example, [ celebrity ringtones ] is more descriptive and specific than [ celebrity sounds ].