Google Scholar searches

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Finding academic sources in Google

The following search tips work for finding academic sources in Google Scholar, as well as for regular Google searches, searching in Gmail, and other Google services.

1 Google Scholar

Searching for sources for your papers in Google will yield a number of irrelevant results – popular websites, popular publications, blogs, commercial sites, and otherwise irrelevant or non-reputable sites. You can use Google Scholar, which limits searches to academic sites – university websites and academic publishers (companies that publish academic books and journals). You can go directly to, or from the main Google site, under “more”.

In the search box, enter your search terms. With If enter multiple terms, it is possible that you will get undesired results, such as similar sounding terms from unrelated fields. However, if you enter terms in quotation marks, it will search for that specific string of words appearing together in documents – an exact phrase search. For example, simply entering grammaticality judgment test (a type of test for linguistics research) without quotes will produce any results with the words grammaticality and judgment and test – any kind of test or judgment, not the kind you want; if you enter it in quotes, it searches for only that combination of words appearing together.

“grammaticality judgment test”

This is what the results look like. The article title appears at the top of each entry, then the author, and then the journal or source. You may have to play with different combinations of search terms to narrow or expand your search properly.


Some of the results show "Find it at X library" -- if you are on a university campus network, Google can show you links to the articles available online through your campus library. Some of the results, such as the third one in the above image, have direct links to downloadable PDFs on the right. Other links might take you to another page with a series of possible links to the article.

Unfortunately, you sometimes cannot find a free version of the PDF. You’ll come across a page asking you to purchase the article. Common academic publishing companyies and indexing services (JSTOR, Benjamins, Oxford, Elsevier, Ovid, Ingentia, Erlbaum, etc.) may ask you for money. If so, make sure to search while on a computer that is on a university network (wireless or LAN). Google will recognize that you are near a university library and provide a link to the article from your university library. This will cover most journals from major academic journal sites. There are a few like BL Direct that are notorious for asking for money, and are not available through most university libraries.

If you really need a file that is unavailable, try first to find it from an electronic database at your university library. If the library doesn’t have it, ask your professor, who might be able to find you a copy. Also at the bottom of the entry on the search results page, you may see something like “All 10 versions” - if the direct PDF link doesn’t take you to a freely accessible version of the paper, click on this link (“All X versions”) for other possible links to the articles. Sometimes multiple links exist for the same article, if the article has been indexed by different database and indexing companies, or appears on multiple websites (if you’re lucky, one may be on the researcher’s website or another website with free articles, along with other similar articles).

Sometimes authors may have Word or RTF versions of an article on their website. In that case, you’ll need to search further to see if the article was actually published in a journal or elsewhere. The Word or RTF file could be a pre-publication draft, or a research paper that may have been submitted, or may have never been submitted, to a journal for possible publication, and the author simply posted it on his/her website. If it seems to be the last case, or you cannot tell what it is, you’ll need to be cautious – this probably hasn’t been vetted by other scholars (like an article published in a journal that has undergone peer review), and it may not be worth using for your research paper; it may or may not be a worthwhile source.


Also, if looking for a published article, you could go a Google search for the author’s academic website and find if s/he has posted a free PDF copy on the site. Or email the author personally and beg nicely for an electronic copy of the article – s/he probably would be happy to provide it. From a GS search, you might occasionally find a link to a PS file, or a postscript file. This can be downloaded and converted to PDF in order to view and print it.[1]

Sometimes the GS results might include Google Books links – links books that have been scanned by Google (next picture). For copyright reasons, the books cannot be downloaded or printed, and only certain pages are available. If the book is not available at your library, you may have to glean what you can from parts of a scanned Google book.


1.1 Getting citations

Under each result are several useful tools. On the bottom left is a star icon to save the document to your Google account, a quotation mark icon for citation information, a link to other articles that have cited the article (e.g., "cited by 20"), a link to related articles, and possibly a link to duplicate versions of the article (e.g., "all 5 versions"). There may also be a link to citations in Web of Science (SCI, SSCI, A&HCI journals). The citation information can be seen by clicking on the quotation mark icon (highlighted in the picture below). This shows citation information that can be copied and pasted into your own paper, in MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, and Vancouver citation styles. The information can also be downloaded to your reference manager program. At the bottom are links to download Bibtex and Endnote. Most users should select Endnote format to download the full reference information into their reference manager--Endnote, Zotero or Mendeley (the Endnote format is standard for many reference managers). Bibtex is for users of Latex document software in sciences and engineering.


2 Advanced search tips

The following search syntax tips work for Google or Google Scholar. On the search results screen, you will see buttons for search tools or advanced search options. You can go to those screens for more options. In GS, to the right of the search box you’ll see ‘Advanced Scholar Search’, which provides these options, including options for specifying dates, publications, authors, and general subject areas (the subject area options may not always display). This advanced search page is different from the advanced search page in regular Google. Usually, instead of doing that, you can use special syntax when you type in your search query in the main Google/GS screen. The search syntax is described below.

2.1 Exact searches

In your search, try playing with different combinations of key words to find what you like, for example:

“discourse completion task” english korean pragmatics
“discourse completion task” english L2 “hedge marker”
“discourse completion task” english L2 korean “hedge marker”

Google typically disregards minor function words like to, the, a, it, of, for, and, and others. Sometimes you want to search for one of these minor words, and you can force Google to do so by putting a plus sign before it. The following search forces it to include ‘of’ in a search phrase.

“age +of acquisition”


2.2 Combined terms

Sometimes you need to search for two related terms together, in which case you can use the Boolean OR operator to search for either term. For OR, you can also use the pipe symbol (the vertical bar on the upper right keyboard).

“perfect tense” pedagogy OR instruction english L2
“perfect tense” pedagogy OR instruction english L2 OR “second language”
“universal grammar” OR UG “phonological acquisition”
“universal grammar” | UG “phonological acquisition” 

The first example searchers for either ‘pedagogy’ or ‘instruction’ of the English perfect tense; the second search string looks for this and for either ‘L2’ or ‘second language’. The third example looks for the phrase ‘universal grammar’ or its common abbreviation, UG. The screenshot below shows a search for ‘pragmatic’ or ‘pragmatics’. Sometimes Google suggests alternative key words (“Did you mean...”), which in the above example were not relevant.


2.3 Expanded searches

The asterisk [*] allows you to do a wildcard search, such as some possible set of words that would work in the context. The following searches for “learning” with plausible following words.

learning *

You can search for similar words with a tilde [~]. The following will search for “learning” and related words like ‘acquisition, learn, acquire...’

language ~learning

You can also include other sites that Google would consider to be related.

learning Latin

2.4 Limiting searches

Sometimes you will want to exclude certain words to weed out irrelevant results. You can do this with a minus sign before the word. The following searches for second language reading models, but excludes results with the term ‘connectionism’.

“reading models” “second language” –connectionism

If you get a lot of non-PDF file results (like plain web pages, MS Word files, etc.), you can narrow the search and exclude many non-PDF-related links like so:

“reading models” “second language” filetype:pdf

Or you can exclude a certain filetype, like MS Word (.doc) files, with the minus sign before the filetype term in the search box:

“reading models” “second language” -filetype:doc

You can also limit your searches to particular web domains; this string limits the search to particular web domains. The first example below limits the search to University of Illinois websites, and the second for Rutgers University in New Jersey:

“reading models” “second language” 
“reading models” “second language” 

You can search for only sites that link to a particular site that you are interested in. The following searches for sites on reading models that have links to a particular web site, or links to sites on a particular domain.

“reading models” “second language”

If a particular website is down or has been deleted, you can searched for an earlier version that has been cached on Google’s servers. The search times will be highlighted on the the returned page.

“reading models” “second language” 

2.5 Other tips

You can search for information on a particular web site with “info,” pages that link to a particular website (i.e., pages with links pointing to a specified web site), and definitions of words with “define.”

You can search for movies or music related to a search term.

music:Klingon language

You can search for particular words in [1] in the URLs, [2] the title of the web pages, [3] in the text of web pages (i.e., only in the text, not in the title, URL, links, or elsewhere), and [4] within the hyperlinked text (anchors) of web pages.

allinurl:psycholinguistics french
Search for sites with ‘psycholinguistics’ in URL
Search for sites with all these words in URL
allintitle:psycholinguistics french
Search for term in page title
Search for all terms in title
allintext:psycholinguistics french
Search for term only in web page text
Search for all terms in page text
allinanchor:psycholinguistics french
Search for term only in hyperlinks
Search for all terms in hyperlinks

All the above tricks can also be used in regular Google searches, as well as in Google Scholar. These tricks should also work for searching your inbox if you have Gmail[2].

3 Google Calculator

Calculator functions are built into the regular Google search page. You can use it as a calculator, using standard keyboard terms for operations.

For these operations or numbers Enter the following in Google
addition 999+888
subtraction 770-555
multiplication 784*541
division 7818/17
modulo (remainder after division) 5%2
exponent 2^10
square root 64^(.5)
xth root 27^(1/3)
3rd root of 27
trigonometry sin(pi/2)
logarithm log(100)
natural logarithm (base e) ln(5.7)
inverse natural logarithm exp(1.2)
factorial 5!
numeral bases 999 in hex64 in binary

128 in octal10010110010 in decimal

unit conversions 100 mi in km1 month in seconds
50 fahrenheit in celsius300 kelvin in celsius
5 feet in meters3 teaspoon in ml
3 cups in liters2 light years in km
currency conversions 500 dollars in euros
value of math constants pi

4 Notes & references

  1. To convert a PS file to PDF, you need either the full Adobe Acrobat program for creating PDFs, or search for a free PDF conversion program like the free Ghostscript+Ghostview package. In Windows, first install Ghostscript (a PDF creation engine), then Ghostview or GSView, a program to view and convert PDF and PS files).
  2. Gmail also offers other search syntax that are more powerful than search functions in other email programs, such as: has:attachment, filename:, label:, from:, to:, and others (do a Google search for “Gmail search syntax” for more information)