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Google for Academic Research

search Google like a librarian

Humanities Librarian

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David C. Murray
TCNJ Library,
Room 216
Skype Contact: xpuhil


Google is generally a poor initial choice for academic research. Why? Much of the content indexed by Google is inappropriate to cite in a college paper. Suffice to convey here only that Google Scholar is a better choice. The best choice for many projects, however, will be one or more of the disciplinary (or subject) databases licensed by our library. That being said, undeniably there are times when Google can be tremendously useful for scholarly research. Your goal should be to separate the wheat from the chaff on the open web. Once you've found a website that you would like to incorporate into a bibliography or works cited list, have a look at the Website Evaluation libguide.

Google Search Tips

Techniques that improve Google as a search tool for college work often apply equally to the library's licensed databases. Google's intitle: limiter, for instance, performs the same function as the title limiter in Ebsco databases.

Combine the above tips for best results: <intitle:"climate change">.

  • Employ Boolean operators: Google's AI will determine the order of search results, but researchers can force terms to appear in their results lists. Researchers can also exclude terms. Let's say you are looking for credible websites about the ancient Maya. A simple Google search for <Maya> returns many sites about the Native American civilization located in Mesoamerica (or Middle America), but also numerous "false hits" for the poet Maya Angelou; a concept in Hindu philosophy; 3D modeling software; and even some restaurants. Improve this search with the AND (+) and NOT (-) operators. Note that <AND> (in all caps) and the plus <+> symbol should be interchangeable. Google periodically changes its syntax rules, so just be careful.

The proximity operator AROUND is also very helpful. Its use privileges websites in which both search terms appear within X words of one another on a website: <Copan AROUND(5) sculpture site:edu>.

And finally, instead of starting with Google's single search box, try the Advanced Search page.

This tip is useful for any research topic but can be especially useful for obscure topics. Librarians have authored hundreds of thousands of research guides. Most of us used the same web-based software to create our guides. (See, for example, all guides authored by TCNJ librarians.) Top-level domains (URLs) for all guides created in this way include the word libguides. Use Google's inurl: limiter to search across the entire corpus. Add additional search terms and/or phrases to narrow your results. Combine with the site:edu limiter to retrieve guides created by academic librarians.

Guides created by non-TCNJ librarians often feature open access resources but invariably privilege sources held by their own libraries. In other words, Gitenstein Library might not hold a particular book or licensed database recommended by librarians who works for other colleges and universities. In those instances, you can: