Google Scholar : Google for research

Or super search tips for researchers and students how to use Google Scholar more efficiently. The embedded Slideshare presentation and this blog post will be kept up to date and in sync. And which is more interesting, all inks or examples in this Slidehare presentation are clickable, so you can see what I mean.

The following scholarly super search tips are an explanation for the embedded slideshare presentation.

You can use, and should use, the usual Google shortcuts. The ones listed in this slide are the most important ones. Search for [“phrase searching”] to keep the words together. Search for specific file types with the ext: (or filetype:) operator. Limit searches to specific parts of the www with the site: operator. Search for the specific words in the title with the allintitle: (or intitle:) operator. Use the OR operator to include synonyms of certain search terms. Exclude specific terms with the sign. And last, but not least combine all these operators. A few more tips like these can be found in the post “Google better with Google

An important Google operator that you can’t use in Google Scholar is the numerical range operator (numrange). The three … (dots) connecting two figures. In Google Scholar you even get a warning that the numrange operator isn’t working when you make use of it. Instead of the numrange operator the facet for publication years is extremely important in Google Scholar.

But before you’re using Google Scholar on a regular basis, turn to the search engine settings. There are three tabs that need a little tuning to optimize Google Scholar for you purposes. In the first tab you should selected the twenty search results per page, and that they open in a new tab/window. And select your preferred bibliography (reference) manager here. In case you use Mendeley, you get the best results when selecting Reference Manager as preferred bibliography manager. In the second tab you can select the language of the interface as well as the search results. It is not recommended to select search results in a single language only. In the last tab you can select the Library links that should be shown. When you are on campus, this is normally selected automatically, but especially when you’re off campus it is recommended to select the appropriate library access that you have to connect to more content directly.

The Google advanced search options are currently hidden behind the small triangle in the search box. You only need that for a few a few type of searches.

At the beginning you might like to use the advanced search form to search for authors. But soon you learn that a search for an author actually translate into the author: operator, eg [author:”KE Giller”] in the Google Scholar search box. If you want to search for the oeuvre of two authors the Advaced search form already fails, you have to do that trough the normal search box [author:”R Leemans” OR author:”KE Giller”]. The second useful option in the advanced search form is the possibility to search for articles in a certain journal. This option doesn’t translate back into a neat operator in standard search box. But in the url you can see what actually happens and you can see that it translates in as_publication= in the url The years option in the advanced search form can be used here, but also after an initial search through the facets. That is what I normally prefer.

The ranking of the search results is heavily influenced by the citations to the articles found. The consequence of this influence of citations on the ranking of the results is that most often older material is at the top of the results page. It is therefore of utmost importance to use the year range option in the advanced search screen or the year range option in facets to select more recent results rather than heavily cited older material found at the top of the results page. When searching for recent results the standard ranking in Google Scholar is counterproductive and you have to make use of the year ranges.

Google Scholar searches for less word variants than the big Google does. There is no verbatim search needed as in the big Google, but “phrase” quotes around a single word still works to search specifically for a single word. Another interesting gem is that the tilde operator still functions in Google Scholar to search for a keyword and its synonyms (hattip @wichor). Something I come across quite a lot amongst experienced search is the use of parentheses, but unfortunately these don’t work in Google Scholar (or the big Google).

Looking into more detail to the search results the snippet of the search results is surrounded by many options. In the first place a clear indication of Open Access versions is indicated in the last column of search engine results page. With the save option you can add the result to the Google Scholar library (not connected to the Google Books Library). Under the Cite option you find three different options to which the reference can be formatted, APA, MLA or Chicago. In combination with the versions option, you can come to a complete reference for to use in your reference list. The import option lets you export the reference to your bibliography management software, such as EndNote, Refworks etc. It only allows you to do it one at the time. The versions tab is useful to locate other full text versions (eg. better scanning quality). In combination with the cite option you can also get properly formatted references. The last options, related articles and Cited by allows you to further search for information based on a useful search. The exact algorithm behind the related search option has not been published or studied and reported widely in the literature.

In Google Scholar it is really easy to initiate search alerts. You only have to be aware of the fact that for a standard search in Google Scholar you are allowed to use 256 characters for a search query, but for an alert the limitation is 100 characters (Barely sufficient for a proper search query). On top of the search alerts, you can receive updates based on your articles in your my citations profile.

On the quality of Google Scholar as a comprehensive search engine for researchers the last word has not been spoken yet. In terms of coverage it is probably larger than any other academic database or search engine. However still not all scholarly sources, such as OA repositories are fully indexed. The big Google index still finds OA resources not indexed in Google Scholar. For systematic reviews Google Scholar is a good addition to the range of databases to search. Metadata quality is still something that needs improvement, as well as the disambiguation of articles and authors. The version function sometimes helps with finding the proper metadata for a reference. The announced coupling to Web of Science should really a big plus in this area.

Google better with Google

Or 14 super search tips for scientists and students. The following scholarly super search tips are an explanation for the enclosed slideshare presentation.

Google better with google

This slideshare presentation was posted a while back on WoW!ter’s slideshare, but has been updated to stay sync with this blogpost

The tips
1. Which Google do you want to use? We have a large international audience of users at our University, who normally are redirected to However if you use then you get the international version. But if you prefer your Indian version works as well. With the /ncr you can control the regional version you are using easily.

2. Personalize your search experience. Nowadays found under the small cogwheel at the top right hand of the page or follow this link. The sections I always pay attention to is the filter option. Why should Google judge if something is fit for my eyes? Or not? I also advice to set the number of search results to 50 (but you can’t make use of Google instant search in that case) I used to use 100 results, but even I found that a wee bit too much. Lastly I always check the box to open the results in a new window (it actually opens a new tab, rather than a window), this keeps my search results window in tact whilst I browse some to the results I retrieved.

Some further personalisation would include to install the google toolbar in your browser, or even a step more in the personalization of the search experience is to make use of iGoogle.

3. There is more than 1 Google. Many people are only using the standard Google web search engine. But for academics, Google Scholar, Google book search, Google patents are certainly specific interfaces that should be part of the searchers trick of the trades.

4. Google universal. Nowadays, Google has realized that the many different search interfaces cause a problem for the users as well and therefore they have introduced the universal search engine results page with a lot of specific options on the left hand side of the results. However a suggestion to use Google Scholar is not included.

5. Learn from the advanced search interface. All Google search interfaces have an advanced search option. Use these options to see what the possibilities of the specific search interface are, and 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:”K E Giller”]

6. Be specific or search with more than 1 term 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 “wapenstilstandsonderhandelingen”. When you’re searching for scientific information you better stick to English as language . In English can’t make compound words. This is a small language difference which necessitates searching with more terms. But apart from the language difference, when you search with more terms, searches become more specific and the results more relevant. In the current example a search for water only, results in more than 700 million results, whereas [Water management technology assessment] results in nearly 8 million results.
Interestingly, when you look at the results in the slides, you’ll notice that total results numbers in Google are unreliable to say the least. In the step from 2 to 3 search terms the result sets increases again.
The fifth example in the slide is an introduction to the next slide. You can be even more precise when searching.

7. Keep words together. Make us of “phrase searches”. A phrase search is a search which returns the words in exactly the specified order. Of course Google already ranks the results with the phrases of search terms at the very top of the search engine results page. This technique also reduces the sheer number of possible results. Compare for instance [“water management”] with [water management]. You can combine as many phrases as you like (see the previous slide), or make them really long (the latter is also used in plagiarism checks).

8. Search for title words. When you feel overwhelmed by the number of results a good solution is to limit your search to title words rather than anywhere on a page. You can search for single title words with the operator, or all of your search words with the operator. These operators are the same when you compare [intitle:”water management”] with [allintitle:water management]

9. Search for information in PDF files. Most scientific information is published on the web in the format of PDF files. Be it as a scientific report or a scholarly article e.g. [Agaricus bisporus ext:pdf]. A couple of years ago this was an extremely efficient way to look for scholarly information on the Web. 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.

10. Search for results from a specific domain. In some cases it is useful to restrict you results to a certain website or domain. This is certainly true for sites that don’t have good site search options e.g. [EndNote]. You can also limit the results to the academic institutions of the USA [“water management”].

11. Search for number ranges. Apart from the fact that Google is a powerful calculator, you can also search for number ranges. This comes in handy when you want to limit your search to results from certain publication years, e.g. [“publication strategy” 2009…2011]. Note that three dots is different (better) than the standard used two dots.

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. Search with OR. In some occasions it the intelligence of Google doesn’t include obvious synonyms. With the OR operator you can combine search terms e.g. [“carbon dioxide” OR CO2]. Notice that OR should be typed with capitals.

14. Combine. Having seen some of the options of the Google search engine you should realize that you can combine most of these operators. In this way you can make very precise searches [“publication strategy” citations 2009…2011 ext:pdf]

Trends in the science and information world

Tomorrow I have to teach a class for better searching for scientific information on the world wide web. In the introduction I try to highlight the major trends in research and the information landscape. I came up with the two following bullet lists.

Trends in science and research

  • Increased multidisciplinarity
  • Increasing cooperation between scientists
  • Internationalization of research
  • Need for primary data
  • More competition for same grant money

Trends in the information world

  • Increased importance of free web resources
  • From information scarcity to overload
  • After A&I databases, journal currently digitization of books
  • From bibliographic control to fulltext search
  • Open Access & Source
  • Multiformity of resources
  • User in control

I wondered if anybody has some additional suggestions for either one of these lists.

Searching for Science

Since a little while -say a year and a half or so- I teach at regular intervals a course on finding scholarly information with freely available resources on the Web. The course is titled “Searching for Science“. The course material is freely available in one of my Wikis’. The main reason for using a wiki for presenting a course like this, is that linking to examples on the Web works so much more smoothly than using a powerpoint  instead.

With regards to the course today, a small group attended. 4 researchers and 5 (mostly) international students. A nice mix. I really enjoyed it, and I think they did as well. Well at least they gave me a really positive evaluation.
During the course I spend about three quarters of the morning, say a littel over 2 hours, on general search tactics. Search engines and their commands, Web directories and the Deep Web.  During the evaluation I always get the feedback that just some plain Google commands and search tips receive the most Brownie points. What’s always interesting is an exercise where we compare the coverage of scholarly search engines plus Live Academic on retrieving a known article from an OA repository in the Netherlands. I always ask the students to do the search with the full title of an article and repeat the exercise with a sentence from the discussion part of the article. It is always interesting to see the outcome of this exercise. As usual Live Academic failed entirely. Google Scholar did reasonbaly well on both, but today Scirus and Scientific Commons only worked with the title words.  These outcomes can be different again tomorrow. It is always difficult to explain these outcomes.

Meanwhile I find some real gratification in the fact to point my students to some of the OA discussions as well, whilst covering collections of OA journals, Repositories or mentioning Open Course Ware sources.

On most occasions the participants are entirely new to some of de Science 2.0 developments. RSS? never heard off. So I introduce them to Bloglines, Netvibes and Google Reader. Show them something about scholarly blogs, social bookmarking for scientists or Digg.

We do actually have a course on Science 2.0 in the planning for somewhere in April. Needs still a lot of developing though. But it will be interesting.