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Google for research

Google is the first place many of us go to for information - it's effective, ubiquitous and free, with astonishing 'reach'.

But it also returns overwhelming amounts of information, is opaque in it's ranking, and can give different sets of results to different users.

But is it a good research tool?

it searches far and wide, which is great.....

but it does not distinguish commercial or trivial information from substantive sources.

Here are some tips to make Google more effective.


Further reading

What you see depends on where you sit: The effect of geographical location on web‐searching for systematic reviews: A case studyRes Syn Meth. 2021; 1– 14.

Google for research


Using Google advanced functions for research.

Use Advanced Search to restrict results to certain domains, eg non commercial.

Advanced Search appears as an option in Settings after an initial search (currently top right of screen).

Or add 'site:domainto the search line

The option shown limits results to Australian government sites.

You need to have some ideas on which domains to use.

Eg: = Australian organisations (but some do not use the .au suffix eg =  Australian educational institutions = British National Health Service sites


Use this function to search within a site if you find the inbuilt search function of a site inadequate.

You can also limit by year.

Use the Tools option

Or more specifically....

or type the command after:xxxx for year level restrictions

Or restrict by filetype...

eg PDF for reports

.xls for data sets

Google uses similar logic to databases, so Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT can be used.

 AND is implicit - you don't need to write it, Google just assumes it is there as a default.

OR must be upper case. You do not need to bracket synonyms, Google assumes OR applies to the words either side of it.

The pipe symbol | can be used in place of OR - no spaces required (it's above the back slash on most keyboards)

cancer OR tumour can be written   cancer|tumour

Notice the difference for these different constructions...

 physiotherapy brain cancer postoperative

1,150,000 results 

 physiotherapy OR physical therapy brain cancer OR brain tumor postoperative

2,640,000 results

 physiotherapy OR physical therapy brain cancer OR brain tumor postoperative

296,000 results

 physiotherapy OR physical therapy brain cancer OR brain tumor postoperative after:2016

26,100 results

physiotherapy|physical therapy brain cancer|brain tumor postoperative after:2016

32,000 results



However Google can be opaque and inconsistent in how it returns results.

Results can vary over time, location and user, and the numbers of results can be vast.

For these reasons Google should never be your sole information source....

.... however these tips can help make it a more effective tool.

Google Search Operators: The Complete List (42 Advanced Operators)

Advanced Search Operators

Add these operators in the search box to focus your search.

site: search within this domain eg = Australian government sites
filetype: search by file format eg filetype:pdf for PDF's
( ) groups terms together eg brain (cancer OR tumour OR tumor)
| pipe symbol, can be used instead of OR eg brain cancer|tumour
after: finds sites updated after a nominated date
before: finds sites updated before a nominated date
-  excludes a word from search results eg measles prognosis  -child
"....." searches for exact phrase eg "hospital in the home"
.. between numbers searches that range eg. measles prognosis  age 5..7 years