The 2012 Ross-Blakley Law Library student survey revealed that 57% of the student body at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law begins their research by conducting a Google search. Truthfully, I also frequently use Google to conduct my own research. It can be both an efficient and accurate search tool if you know how to utilize its features. Below are a few tips to help you get the best results out of your Google searches.
The Google Advanced Search template allows you to use syntax tools to craft a better question with Boolean operators and provides filters (such as date and language) to narrow the search results. It also gives you the ability to limit your search to a single type of document, such as a PDF file or PowerPoint presentation, by utilizing the “file type” drop-down menu.
Search Specific Types of Websites
You can limit your Google search to certain types of websites, such as educational institutions with the “.edu” extension or government websites with the “.gov” extension. There are two ways to do this:
- Inurl: term
- This will return results from any website with that term in the URL, e.g. inurl: gov.
- Site: term
- This will return results from the specific site or type of site indicated, e.g. site: nytimes.com or site: edu.
Search for Academic Content with Google Scholar
Google Scholar contains a variety of academic content including journal articles, conference papers, theses, dissertations, and technical reports, as well as state and federal court cases. While much of the academic content is not available in full-text for free, searching Google Scholar is a valuable way to conduct an initial search across a broad range of topics to identify relevant scholarly content. Google Scholar also has a “Cited by” notation under each result that gives information on the number of other resources in the Google Scholar database that cite that result, as well as a “Related articles” feature that lists articles on the same topic as a particular search result.
Manipulating Displayed Search Results
Google displays search results by relevance, relying on an algorithm of over 200 factors to determine relevancy. However, you can manipulate your search results in a variety of other ways. First, the “Search within results” feature listed at the bottom of each page of search results allows you to search for additional terms within your result list. Additionally, you can choose just to view “Images” or “News” or utilize the “Search tools” button at the type of the page to narrow results by currency (past hour, past 24 hours, etc.) or reading level (basic, intermediate, and advanced).
The Google Ngram Viewer is a phrase-usage graphing tool that charts the yearly count of selected n-grams (letter combinations), words, and phrases as found in millions of books digitized by Google. It provides a visual representation of how words or phrases have been used over time (currently the date range is from 1500 to 2008). This is a great scholarly tool but also a lot of fun for experimenting! (Hint: try conducting an Ngram search for “wonder woman.”)
Happy (research) trails!