Contributed by: Koen Beumer (FASoS)
Everyone knows Google is more than just a search engine. They offer e-mail and software services, maps, mobile phones and even an academic search engine. Perhaps less known is that their regular search engine offers many basic tricks that can be useful in research practice.
All you need to know is some basic terms that Google calls ‘operators’. Much like the better known Boolean search terms (for instance putting ‘AND’ or ‘OR’ between two search terms to specify the query), these terms can be used to delineate your query in a clever way.
One can for instance search within a particular website. By starting with “site:”, then putting the website name (without http://www.), then typing a space, and finally writing the term that you want to search for, Google will retrieve all pages containing that term within the particular website.
This came in handy in my own research several times. I am investigating how risks of new technologies are dealt with inSouth Africa,India,Kenyaand theNetherlands. When I want to find out what a particular organization has done about nanotechnology, or when I want to prepare for an interview, I often have to rely on their website. Unfortunately, websites of organizations in developing countries generally have poor or non-existing search options and pages cannot be easily found. Using the operator “site:” allows me to quickly find all relevant pages.
Moreover, using this operator allows you to search more systematically than the official website may allow you to do. For instance when I searched for nanotechnology on the website of the South African Department of Science and Technology, the official search option returned 38 items. Yet when I used the Google operator I managed to find 439 (see figure 1).
Similarly, when I know that all documents that are discussed in the Dutch parliament are published on http://www.tweedekamer.nl/, then I can easily retrieve all documents containing nanotechnology using this operator (see figure 1). Using this trick I can start systematically mapping discussions about nanotechnology in the Dutch parliament because I know for sure that I found all relevant discussion documents.
This trick is regularly used by journalist to haul up classified documents. For instance many organizations finish press releases before news is made official. Oftentimes the press release is already put online but the page is simply not linked to other pages on a website. These pages cannot be found unless one knows one knows the specific URL but the pages do allow organizations to upload the press release quickly. But these pages can be found using the Google operators.
The downside is that these operators only work when all pages under that website retain the original name. For instance, when searching for nanotechnology in the Indian parliament (the ‘Lok Sahba’), I soon noticed that the name of the link (in this case loksahba.nic.nl) does not remain the same. For instance if you click on ‘questions’, the website address changes into ‘http://220.127.116.11/ ’ and no longer includes “loksabha.nic.nl” – hence the operator would fail to find the relevant pages.
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