Toolkit for Searching for Research Information
Step 3: Search (with Google)

Step 3: Search (with Google)

Key Points

  • Use “phrase searching” to keep your search terms together.
  • Use Boolean Operators and take your search to the next level.
  • Use Google Advanced Search to build complex searches.
  • Use Google Scholar to find academic articles, conference proceedings and white papers.

Google Search, commonly known as Google, is a search engine that gives you access to information from around the world. There are a number of search strategies you can use to make your searches more powerful. You already saw an example of this with the command define.

“Phrase Searching”

Phrase searching, also known as quote searching, takes place when you put “quotation marks” around two or more words, in order to keep them together, as a phrase and in exactly the same order. Phrase searching helps find resources that contain exact words.

Quote searching gives you, the searcher, the ability to control the types of results Google finds. When you enter keywords without quotations, Google’s search algorithm searches for your terms as single keywords, different versions of your keywords, as well as phrase combinations, which leads to a large number of results.

When you search using a phrase, the number of results Google finds will be much lower, but those results will be specific to what you are trying to find.

Take a look at the two Google searches below, and compare the results:

Search 1: depression developmental disability

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3a search 1

Search 2: depression “developmental disability”

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3b search 2

Compare the number of results in Search 1 and 2. They are very different. Search 1 has 1,390,000 results, while search 2 has 226,000 results.

Search 2 is more targeted, because of the use of “phrase searching”.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are special search terms that can help you find more specific search results. The two most common Boolean operators are: AND and OR (always capitalized)./p>

When you introduce Boolean operator AND to your search, you are asking the search engine (or a database) to find resources that include all the search terms you are looking for. Using Boolean operator AND will help you find fewer, but more specific, information sources. For example, the Google search “mental illness” AND “psychological disorder” finds results that contain both phrases, lowering the number of results.

While you can use operator AND in Google, its search algorithm is set up for automatic AND. This operator is most commonly used when searching academic databases.

Boolean operator OR helps to expand a search. OR = more. You can use OR to combine terms or phrases with similar meaning (synonyms and related terms). When you use OR, you will see the number of results increase. An example of a search using Boolean operator OR is: “mental illness” OR “psychological disorder”.

Here’s how introducing Boolean operators in a Google search affects the number of results:


Google Advanced Search

Google Advanced Search is a guided, advanced search interface. The easiest way to find Advanced Search is to Google: google advanced search. Alternatively, you can find it from the main Google Search page, under Settings. Here is the direct link.

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3c advanced 1

Google Advanced Search guides you through the process of putting together a very specific search and it also shows you how to do it in the regular search box (look at the text on the right-hand side).

Let’s take a look at building a comprehensive search, using Google Advanced Search.

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3d advanced 2
CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3e advanced 3

The above is an example of a complex search that targets results on the topic of depression (or mental illness) in adults (and not children or teenagers), written in English, in the past year (from 2015-2016).

Here’s what the above search looks like in the Google Search box:

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3f advanced 4

Google Scholar

By searching Google Scholar, you will find articles published in academic journals, books and presentations.To learn more about Google Scholar, access its About page.

You will only be able to access some of the journal articles you find through Google Scholar by paying a fee, while other content will be available free of charge (published in open source journals, a draft copy of the article, or a blog post).

There are 3 ways you can access paid content for free:

  1. Through your local public library:
    Public libraries typically have access to a limited number of academic databases (databases are platforms that store academic articles)
  2. Through your professional association:
    Professional associations sometimes provide access to various academic databases to their members.
  3. Through a college/university library:
    If you are affiliated with a higher educational institution, you will have access to a rich variety of academic databases through its library.

If you are pursuing a research project, Google Scholar is a great first step in identifying previously shared (published or posted) content on a number of different topics.

Let’s compare Google Search to a Google Scholar search, using the general search terms: dual diagnosis schizophrenia.

Google Search results

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3g search v scholar 1

Google Scholar search results

CNSC Toolkit - Searching For Research - S3h search v scholar 2

Additional Resources