Getting Better Results with Google Scholar

Use these tips to make Google Scholar work better!

Five Top Tips for Searching Google Scholar

1. Google Scholar doesn't have a thesaurus or list of subject terms, because it is skimming Web content that is created by others. You may have to use synonyms OR'ed together to draw a more complete set of citations. You must capitalize the OR to have it used by the software. 

For example: (Twelfth Night OR 12th Night) for the play's title

2. You may use quotation marks around a phrase to make GS search for it as that phrase.

For example: "Tomato Mosaic Virus" OR TMV

For example: "Plutarch's Lives"

3. You can't use * as a truncation symbol; a stem word and * to get the endings, like comput*, doesn't work here. It may be used to replace a whole word in a phrase, such as "the * and future *" which would pick up phrases like "the Once and Future King." A colleague calls this the 'whole word wildcard'. GS does look for other forms of some words, such as plurals and related terms.

4. Search for specific authors using the "Initials or first name then lastname" format  to get a better result--

for example, "LR Oliver" generally works better than Oliver, Lawrence R. although you can use both, such as "LR Oliver" OR "Oliver, LR"

Also, you can use the author tag, which is the word author[no space]a colon[no space] and the author's name, such as author:Hawking

5. Google Scholar shows how many times works have been cited-- and as citations differ, the numbers may be spread among the variant citations. Check the citing publications for accuracy-- even if someone has an unusual name, the software can make mistakes. It does not allow sorting or removal of duplicates.

GS is not searching for ALL possible relevant publications. It often doesn't show all cited references to books or book chapters. You may need to use subject databases to get a comprehensive search.

Bonus tip: "sort by date" will only offer the references published in the last year.

Searching in Google Scholar: +, -, OR

Search Google Scholar using your chosen terms. Context searching is better than it used to be. An AND is assumed between words. OR works only if in capital letters. NOT or the minus sign - can be used to exclude terms. Do not put a space between the mark and the search term.

For example, searches like:

"James Joyce" Ulysses (oeuvre OR "body of work")

"water quality" (benthic OR lotic) macroinvertebrates -riparian

should work better than typing complete sentences.


Use the "Find It!at UofA" link [more direct] to locate items if you have set your preferences to work with our Libraries' pages.  Or use the links to other campuses or sources, being aware that they may or may not allow you to have the material.

Hyphenation--Yes and No

Styles differ; some people use a hyphen between parts of a hyphenated word, and some use a space. Google and GS retrieve both versions of the term, up to a point. If a hyphen (–) shows up in a query, e.g., [parti-colored], it searches for:

  • the term with the hyphen, e.g., parti-colored
  • the term without the hyphen, e.g., particolored
  • the term with the hyphen replaced by a space, e.g., parti colored

If you want to get a comprehensive search for a hyphenated word, you are better off using quotation marks around the parts, since searches of versions of the word without a hyphen or space won't find versions of the word which do include them.

So, "parti-colored" gets particolored, parti colored and parti-colored. But particolored only gets itself.

Some of this box's content is paraphrased from, accessed 4/5/13.