Dec 3, 2011

Google Advanced Search Tips For Research

Advanced Google Search Operator Terms
Search to Research
Applying Google's advanced search operators in their search engine can help produce more focused and relevant results when performing a search. More so than a regular Google search, of which filtering occurs for the displayed results. Utilizing such techniques can quickly find not only targeted websites, but also the type of website, whether it be a blog, general website, pdf file, forum, excel file, and top level domain formats such as .com,, .edu,, and .org. Generally their are four types of searches - Navigational, Informational, Transactional, and Commercial.

Online research generally involves informational searches, and applying specific query intent parameters can easily filter out unnecessary information. Plenty of it. Doing so is useful for a student or researcher who wishes to find relevant information, and from specific web formats and domains quickly. Additionally there are also specialist search engines, online research tools, and other Google properties that can greatly help for researching. I'll explain such tools in another article.

Advanced Operators, Keywords and Research Terms
There are many operators, some little known, to laser target a search result from a keyword that is searched,  which we will call our core keyword. I will concern ourselves with some of these operators, and terms:
Operators: "" (quotes for exact match), intitle: allintitle: filetype: inurl: inanchor: and the site: commands.
Terms and Domain Extensions: your core keyword (i.e. search query, e.g. NZ Scholarship), .com,,, .edu., pdf, .xls, and .doc(x).

Note: There are many useful research terms that can be used, with your core keyword(s) in search queries, such as:"resources", "library" "planned research", "articles" "related sites", "related urls" "related links" "recommended reading", and other similar descriptors such as: report, institute, author, workshop, editors, policy, informational, citation, table of contents, references, association, federation, resources, abstract, publication, material, methodology, analysis, systematic, journal, biographies, Ph.D, review, technologies, conference, referee, international, problem, scholarly, literature, training, manual, exploring, evaluating, examining, developing, characteristics, predictive, documented, hypothesis, and observation.

These are common research related terms used in links and text in authorative and informational web sites, research papers (e.g. white papers), and government documents. Try online dictionaries (e.g. research haven, one-look dictionary),  thesaurus online, suggestion and keyword tools (e.g. ubersuggest, Google Suggest and Keyword tool) and synonym websites to aid in supplementary and alternative terms.

Varying Your Search Queries - Focused Intent
Google operators can be used, either in isolation or in combination, perhaps with changing your core keyword(s) when searching. Generally fewer search engine result pages (often referred to as the "SERPS") are displayed as you further refine your search. It's best if I work through an example. You may of course have your own methods, avenues, and resources to search or research online, as their are many sites, that you may know - such as Wikipedia, Government, University, District Councils, Library, and Professional Institution websites, (e.g. for New Zealand - Study Link, Ministry of Education, Inland Revenue, Auckland or Otago University, Ministry of Science, etc), forums, databases, and collaborative research sites. Or perhaps software, bookmarlets, addons, scripts, and online tools, but our approach is by applying enhanced queries in Google Search.

Video- From 2012: Using Site/Exact/Wildcard//Plus -Minus Sign/Advanced Search Tab

How to Search and Refine for a Scholarship Online using Google - Example

Initial Basic Search
For searching information for a NZ scholarship one might start with a simple query such as: Scholarship NZ or further targeted as: NZ Bank Scholarship. These are broad based searches (of which a combination and similar terms are used for actual searching), but you can try including quotes, which adopts a exact match phrase search, which should display exactly in the title of web sites in the search results.

Google Site and Intitle Commands
If no relevant results appear on the first few pages, then we can apply the advanced operators like this: banking scholarship; or variations such as nz bank scholarship (adding the term nz). Google then searches for all domains. Perhaps replace with or for a similar search.  Our intent is to quickly find NZ sites that have anything about banking scholarships, and that you get a feel for adopting this type of search/research technique. To further refine we can include the intitle (or allintitle command) intitle:banking scholarship, and maybe add or change our initial core keywords slightly, perhaps including standard research terms as noted above for better targeting.

Refine with PDF File Type
To further refine, we now include file types - as many research papers and online application forms are in PDF, and to a lessor extent, Word (.doc). Excel (.xls), Power point (.ppt), and maybe .txt. Thus our search becomes: intitle:banking scholarship filetype:pdf or perhaps exclude the intitle command, if you want more search results. Often similar sub domains are displayed. Sometimes the filetype command may not be required, adding PDF (without filetype:) as a term with your core keywords may suffice to find relevant document(s).

More Information with other Document Formats
For the other document formats, simply replace PDF and select another, e.g. .doc or combine them using the pipe command: | i.e intitle:banking scholarship filetype:pdf | filetype:.doc | filetype:.xls or perhaps change our core term or keyword phrase to bank scholarship, i.e.: intitle:bank scholarship filetype:pdf | filetype:.doc | filetype:.xls should result in more search results or hits. Generally a bit of mix and matching is required when refining searches, to improve reach to yield our target results within the SERPS. Often the target or web property is easily visible on page 1 of the search results.
Advanced Google Search Using Site, Intitle, File Type and Format Terms
(Click for larger View)

So varying sequences of refined searching might be required as indicated below
(Note: kk2=2 core keywords, r=research term, .xx =domain extension (e.g., .gov, .com), pwe=pdf, word, excel document)

kk2>site:.xx kk2>site:.xx intitle:kk2>site:.xx intitle:kk2 filetype:pwe>pdf document found
or kk2k3>>site:xx intitle:kk2k3 "r" filetype:pw>>word and pdf documents found
or kk2>site:.xx kk2>site:.xx intitle:k-k2 filetype:p>> 1 pdf document found
- If too may hits, then try allintitle:
>>kk2k3>site:.xx kk2k3>site:.xx allintitle:kk2k3 filetype:p>>website and pdf document found

Table of Google Advanced Queries starting with nz bank scholarship

Search Type Search Query No. of Hits
basic search nz bank scholarship 2,660,000
site operator search bank scholarship 28,100
intitle operator search (replacing intitle with allintitle = 897 hits) intitle:nz bank scholarship 25,200
filetype search with pdf, doc, and xls intitle:nz bank scholarship filetype:pdf | filetype:.doc | filetype:.xls 66
file type search with pdf (nz removed, as too many hits) intitle:bank scholarship filetype:pdf 22

Searching with the .edu, Domain Extension for Research Documents
Along with .gov,, there are the academic (e.g. university) domain extensions (e.g. for Otago, AUT,  Massey, Canterbury, etc in NZ). Also .edu is valuable for finding research documents particularly in conjunction with using filetype:pdf. Using the site: .edu (or,, etc) domains instead of the command is useful for finding post graduate reports and research papers.

Many research documents are housed on university servers, but mostly overseas (USA) institutions, e.g. Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT,  for .edu based searches. If you want to find specific papers, e.g. for Chemistry: intitle:organic chemistry filetype:ppt | filetype:pdf | filetype:doc (~7, 260 hits)  or for local (NZ) search, use, i.e. intitle:organic chemistry filetype:ppt | filetype:pdf | filetype:doc (~ 79 hits). Then can further refine searching if need be with your own core keywords, additional research term(s), operators, custom dates, exact phrase, site searches (within a domain, e.g. etc, if required.

University Selection for Scholarship
(Click for Larger View)

source: created from graphical dictionary Visuwords, derived from Wordnet, Princeton University

Note: To search for educational and library domains, maybe start with inurl: (or allinurl:), or inanchor: (or allinanchor:) with (or without initially) a combination of core keywords, and commands (e.g. intitle:). For example to search libraries in NZ: inurl:library yields 20 Million hits. Then refine your search if required, as described above.

Video -Quick search tips: Calculator/Time/Metric Conversions/.org and .edu search

More Refined Search Options
For Further refinement, once search results (SERPS) are displayed, you can use the "more search tools" in Google's L/H side to order by date, "reading level" "verbatim" (exact phrase), social, and other options should they suit. If you want to quickly display the home page website for a open PDF, then "back track" by deleting part of the the URL address in the browser address bar. Delete to the home URL (often to the first slash /), then press enter to try open up the main home page website. Though this process may not always display a home page, as you may end up at a folder directory (e.g. for certain .edu sites), or a direct download may occur when you first click on a PDF document in the search results.

Infographic of Student Search and Research Tips
(Visit Hack College for complete navigation)

Tips and Summary
- Get to know the various and relevant operators and terms, and save them in a document, then paste in Google search for easy research.
- More operators and examples can be found at Google Guide and more commands here.
- Try different combinations of search operators, url extensions, and search terms (queries) including other operators from the Guide and Google help center.
 - Similar searches can be performed at the site level for web sites, from a domain, e.g. for the Ministry of Education Website like this: site: pdf or specifically site: scholarship filetype:pdf.
 - Firebox addons (e.g. search selected for site level searches) and Bookmarklets, i.e. scripts can help for power searching, e.g. site search from  Milly's Bookmarklets.
PDF File Tips
- If you come across a forum or website, with several images, consider converting the website to a PDF file. Convert it's URL to PDF online, e.g. with PDF my URL, then save it. Bookmarking websites in the browser sometimes does not help, as I have found the site has disappeared offline, or the images converted to links, when revisited later. Though the wayback machine (internet archives) can help for retrieving removed or earlier version websites.
- Likewise save any important PDF's you do find online, and back them up, or maybe collaborate with other researchers, and share at Mendeley.
- Try document search engines, such as DocJax or Voelspriet (displays file types as explained above) to find a range of document types. Zanran search finds statistical data and chart related websites.
- Try Google Docs Viewer for creating emailing a link, html code creation, or embedded link, and quick viewing of a PDF URL link in Google Docs within your browser.
- Visit how to do "everything" with PDF files, which has links to online tools for converting, editing, adding watermarks and more.

Improve your Google search skills by adopting search operators, with your core keyword and common research orientated terms. Specifically search for PDF documents of which many online forms, manuals, user guides, specification data, and research documents reside. Many PDF's are written or compiled by Researchers, Scientists, Policy Analysts, Engineers, Senior Marketers, Historians, often from research institutes, Government departments, authoritative or branded businesses, blogs and websites. Become a skilled researcher to easily find specific format documents, by learning and appreciating the usefulness and power of advanced Google operators.


1 comment:

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