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Search Skills

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Can't I just use Google?

Why use Library databases and not Google (or Bing, Yahoo etc.)?

The video below gives a nice summary of why you may want to use databases for your search rather than a commercial search engine such as Google. However, if you would like to use Google or another search engine, make sure that you are getting the most out of it. This guide contains some top tips for using Google and Google Scholar, and ideas about alternative search engines you may want to use. 

Remember:

The Library subscribes to loads of databases, and these will lead you to high quality, academic resources. For more information on what resources are available in your subject area, take a look at your Subject Guide. The video below explains why you may want to use these databases. 

 

Google Scholar

If you would like to use Google to search for academic content, try Google Scholar

Google Scholar Search
  • Searches a wide range of sources
  • Good for seeing what research is out there on your topic
  • You won't be able to access everything you find. Sometimes you will be asked to pay.
  • Not all content you find will be high quality. 
    • Although they look like other scholarly journals, there will be content you find that is not peer-reviewed. This means it may not be of as good quality or as trustworthy as other sources. 

If you do want to use Scholar, try these top tips to get the most out of your search

  • Set up Library Links. This will let you click straight through to any content that the Library has a subscription for.
    • Google settings > Library Links > Search for "Essex" > Tick University of Essex > Save
    • If you're on a computer on campus, Google will do this automatically
  • Make use of the options for each search result:
    • Save search results to review later
    • Cite allows you to see (and copy) a reference for a source
    • Cited by will let you see where a source has been used (allowing you to do chain searching)
    • Related articles may allow you to find useful related content
  • Try the Advanced Search. This will give you more control over your search. 

Also, take a look at the general Google search tips below, as these will also work in Scholar. 

Getting the most out of Google: tutorial

Have a go at our interactive online tutorial on Google search skills to learn some top tips that will make your searches more effective!

Screenshot showing the Google search skills tutorial home page

Get the most out of Google: top tips

Verbatim can help you to perform an exact phrase search.

With the massive amount of information available to search on Google, this could really help to focus your search.

This option stops Google looking for synonyms and variations of your terms. It should also stop Google dropping terms from your search.

To use this option, in your search results list click on 'Tools', then from the 'All results' dropdown menu click 'Verbatim' 

Google Verbatim option screenshot

These commands work in both Google and Google Scholar. Below are a few of the available commands, along with examples of how you could use them. 

  • Exact phrase
    • "carbon emissions"
    • "human resource management" 
    • "chemical engineering"
  • Exclude words
    • muscle soreness-acute
    • jaguar-cat
    • football-soccer-rugby
    • "research methods" qualitative-quantitative
  • * one or more words (Fills in the gaps, does not truncate)
    • solar * panels = solar PV panels, solar photovoltaic panels, solar electricity panels, solar water heating panels etc. 

Try using the Boolean operator OR to search for synonyms or alternative terms.

For example:

oil OR petroleum

marathon OR race

hematology OR haematology

USA OR America

However, sometimes it is better to run separate searches. 

You can use a top level domain search to specify that you want to search within a certain type of site. 

To search within one of these domains type: "site:" then the domain and your search. 

For example:

  • site:.gov.uk taxes
  • site:.nhs.uk flu

Some domains you may want to use include:

  • .gov.uk - UK government
  • .gov - US government
  • .edu - US universities
  • .ac.uk - UK universities 
  • .org - charity/ not for profit
  • .org.uk - charity/not for profit (UK-based)
  • .nhs.uk - UK National Health Service

This command allows you to restrict your results to the specified file type.

For example:

  • PowerPoint for presentation
  • Spreadsheets for data and statistics 
  • PDF for research papers 

Use the command "filetype:"

For example:

  • "north sea" deep water drilling filetype:pdf
  • "north sea" deep water drilling filetype:ppt

Use this command for anything to do with numbers and quantities, years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc.

Type in your numbers separated by two dots. 

For example: 

electric car production forecasts 2020..2050

The "intitle:" operator searches for a single word or phrase in the title of the search result.

Use "allintitle:" if you want all of your terms to appear in the title.

For example: 

  • intitle:"delayed onset muscle soreness"
  • allintitle:economic effects of Brexit

The "intext:" operator searches for the terms inside the body of the text.

Words must be in the text of the page and exactly match your term.

For example:

  • UK public transport intext:biodiesel
  • University research intext:"open access" 

You can find the Advanced Search in the settings menu of Google or Google Scholar. It will give you various options for making your search more specific and for narrowing your search. 

Try it out to see if you can use it to improve your search results. 

Going beyond Google: alternative search engines

Google (or any search engine) is not searching the entirety of the live web as it is at any given moment. They index pages and search those to give you results. Each search engine will index different parts of the internet, so using just one may lead to you missing out on useful resources that fall outside of this. 

If two people carry out the same search using Google, they will not necessarily see the same results. This is because Google is showing results it thinks each individual wants to see. While this can be useful in certain contexts, when we are researching a topic and trying to find us much information as we can about it, perhaps including varied points of view, it may restrict the information available to us. 

For these reasons, you may want to try your search in a few different search engines. This guide highlights just a few of the available alternatives, but take a look and see what else you can find out there. 

duckduckgo.com

  • Does not track or share your web history or try to personalise your results.
  • Results from over 400 sources.
  • Make the most of your search with the DuckDuckGo Search Syntax guide

millionshort.com

  • Great for finding specialist articles that Google and Bing bury beyond reach.
  • Useful for researching new, niche technologies or information not well optimised for search engines.
  • View sites excluded.
  • Specify location. 

 

https://www.ecosia.org/

  • Help the environment while you search: profits from ad income are used for tree planting. 
  • Doesn't use third-party trackers or sell your data. 
  • Option to turn personalised search results on or off. 

https://search.carrot2.org/

  • Visualises your search results.
  • Useful for finding concepts you may have missed and for surfacing information buried in Bing and Google.

https://www.semanticscholar.org/ 

  • Search engine for finding peer-reviewed (acadmemic) research.
  • Uses artificial intelligence and semantic searching to “cut through the clutter” and give you results that are more relevant and impactful to your work.
  • Indexes millions of articles. 

https://academic.microsoft.com/home

  • Uses artificial intelligence and semantic searching to help you explore scholarly information. 
  • Search by topic, author, journal or a combination.