Google search: Keyword search and other search tools for your next research paper

Google Scholar specializes in web searches for scholarly books and articles. (Credit: PNG crusade bot)

Google Scholar specializes in web searches for scholarly books and articles. (Credit: PNG crusade bot)

When you’re using keyword search and other search tools for writing a research paper, where do you start? Most students start with Google search. While it’s true that Google houses a wide range of useful information, finding what you need for an academic paper can be challenging. Let’s take a look at how Google works and best strategies for finding good research information.

The best choice?

Is Google the best resource to use when writing your research papers? Not really. You’re going to have an easier time finding scholarly articles if you use subscription databases such as:

  • Scopus
  • Web of Science
  • LexisNexis
  • Proquest
  • ERIC

The reason why these databases are better sources is because the articles they house have all been peer reviewed. That means that the research has been checked by a team of experts in the same field as the research being done. And this team ensures that the article has met the necessary research standards. You don’t get that kind of oversight in a general Google search.

How Google works

When you type in a keyword search into Google, the results that you get back are based on certain search algorithms. These algorithms are explained by Karen Blakeman in the article, “Finding Research Information on the Web: How to Make the Most of Google and Other Free Search Tools,” published in the Spring 2013 issue of Science Progress and available on Questia.

Blakeman described several factors to keep in mind when searching on Google. Knowing how Google works can help you to tailor the way to create your keyword searches.

  • Google personalizes results based on your location and your past searches: If you’re located in California, a Google search may not show you the latest research being done in Germany even if it’s the most relevant information on your topic.
  • Google will look for variations of your search term: While this can be useful, it can also result in a lot of results that you just don’t need.
  • Google doesn’t search everything: It looks through its higher ranked sites first and may not search other sites at all.

Work-arounds for dealing with these practices are also listed in Blakeman’s article.

Google Scholar

If you want to use Google to find scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles, then try Google Scholar. This specialized version of Google takes your keywords and searches only for scholarly books and articles. You can find out more at the Western New England University (WNE) D’Amour Library site.

In an article titled, “How do I use Google Scholar to find scholarly articles that I can access for free?” you can learn the basics and even watch a video tutorial.

Is Google Scholar the answer to your research needs? Not entirely. According to the folks at the D’Amour Library, “You can search Google Scholar just as you would search regular Google, but you may find simple keyword searches to be insufficient for your quest to find journal articles that fit your topic, thesis or research question.”

Google search tips and tricks

When using Google, there are certain techniques that can help you zero in on what you need. These strategies were described by Dharmesh Shah in a March 5, 2007, post for Hubspot.com titled, “12 Quick Tips to Search Google Like an Expert.”

The list of tips includes:

  • Put double quotes around a keyword phrase to get exact results
  • Use a negative sign in front of a keyword to exclude any results for that term. For example: speakers -audio
  • Use the phrase “site:www.sitename.com” along with your keywords to get results from only that website
  • To get results for a keyword and anything similar to that keyword put a tilde “~” in front of the keyword
  • Add the phrase filetype:ppt to search for only PowerPoint presentations about your keywords. This also works for pdfs, docs, etc.

Google also archives newspaper articles. If you’re looking for content more than 30 days old you can use Google Web Search to find what you’re looking for.

According to Google Support on how to Find news archive content, “For example, if you’re looking for information about the fall of the Berlin wall, just type in fall of the Berlin wall and start your search. The results you see won’t be restricted by publication date.”

What tricks do you use to perfect your Google searches? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Be sure to check out the research tutorials on Questia where you can read millions of full-text books and articles.

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