Advanced searching

Most search engines search for all the words you type in and will bring back results that have the words somewhere in the webpage, not necessarily next to each other. The following tips will help refine your Google search, and can all be used in combination.

  • Search for a phrase – use speech marks (“ ”) to search for words that appear next to each other, e.g. “aircraft carriers”.
  • Search for alternative words – use OR (in capital letters), e.g. to find university OR “higher education”.
  • Remove words from your search – use a minus (-) symbol before the word to remove it from your search e.g. cloning –sheep will find results that include cloning but do not include the word sheep.

You may be familiar with using an asterisk (*) as a truncation symbol when database searching (e.g. child* finds child, children, childhood etc) – this does not work in Google. You can however use the asterisk to replace a whole word or number when doing a phrase search in Google, e.g. “management * structure” will find management organisational structure and management team structure.

The advanced option in Google or Google Scholar allows you to make your search more specific, e.g. by restricting the file type (say to pdfs or PowerPoints), or by limiting results to a particular web domain (gov.uk will only find results from the UK government webpages). The commands used by different search engines do vary and will be listed on their individual advanced search or help pages.

Googleguide gives a comprehensive list of Google search commands.

Remember that there is a lot of academic information on the web that you will not find using search engines. This is because it is contained in a library catalogue or journal database not indexed by the search engines. The library has a paid subscription to many journal databases each covering different a subject area. If you are not sure which to use, check your subject page.