Getting the best from Google

Getting the best from Google

Google has the widest coverage of all the search engines but even it doesn't cover everything that's out there. Google ranks results according to their popularity, the sites that are linked to the most by other sites will appear at the top of the list. However, popularity doesn’t necessarily equal quality!

The main problems you will face when using Google for academic study are:

  • Most searches will find thousands of pages of results – which you then have to sift through.
  • Some useful good quality material and even more unsuitable, poor quality material will be retrieved – randomly intermingled. Consequently you will have to evaluate each site that you find before you use it. (See the webpage checklist).
  • The most important sources for academic study are peer-reviewed journal articles, books, conference papers, academic reports and theses/dissertations. Only a tiny proportion of these are freely available on the web – you must use your libraries’ resources to find them.

How to increase your chances of finding relevant, good quality material using Google

  • First analyse your topic and choose your search terms (this is the most important step in any search for information!). See the Choose your search terms and Searching techniques section of this guide for more information.
  • Use Google Scholar if you want to find scholarly material on the web. Google Scholar will not find newspaper articles, magazine articles, audio-visual materials, Government websites, websites of charities and professional organisations (apart from books and academic reports produced by these organisations). All of these materials can be useful as supplementary information for assignments and you can find some of them through Google.
  • Use the Advanced Search option to search Google. Click on the Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more link to bring up further limiting options. The following limiters are currently available:
  • Language: – limit your results to only websites written in English
  • File type: – most websites are written in html. If a file has been written in a different format: PDF, Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc. this may indicate that the material is of a better quality. For example, many UK Government reports will be available as PDF files.
  • Search within a site or domain: – allows you to limit your search to a particular website OR by domain name. The websites of academic institutions (.ac) and UK Government Departments (.gov.uk) are more likely to contain good quality information. (See the section on Domain names and country codes for further help).
  • Date: – allows you to choose how recently the page was last updated.
  • Usage rights: – all material that you find on the web is subject to copyright. It is illegal to copy and modify any material that you find including words, images, videos, sound recordings etc. If you want to find materials that you can copy, modify and redistribute; change the Usage rights option to free to use, share or modify.
  • Where your keywords show up: – Google will automatically search for your keywords anywhere in the page. Changing this option to: In the title of the page OR in the URL of the page will ensure that the website is mainly about your keywords – not just a brief mention.
  • Region: – will limit your search to websites from a particular country e.g. United Kingdom
  • Numeric range: – useful if, for example, you are looking for results within a specific date range, e.g. documents relating to residential care in the UK between 1940 – 1960.
More search help

For more Google search tips e.g. phrase searching, see the Google Search Basics page.

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