In a previous article, we offered guidance on using Google Scholar to determine field-specific conventions. In particular, we focused on comparing the usage of specialized terms such as “immune-compromised” and “immunocompromised.” In this article, we will discuss the use of Google Scholar to identify field-specific conventions for broader terms that are used differently across various fields, requiring more advanced search strategies.
As described before, Google Scholar is an aggregator of scholarly literature, including journal articles, books, and dissertations. On the simplest level, comparing the numbers of search results for two different terms can help to clarify which is more commonly used in academic publications. However, many terms and phrases have distinct usages in different areas of research. To narrow your search to focus on specific types of usage, you can employ four functions in the advanced Google Scholar search, accessed by clicking the down arrow to the right of the main search field:
###“With the exact phrase”
This tool allows you to provide context for a term or phrase of interest. For example, on its own, “indication of” yields about two-fold as many results as “indication for” does. However, “indication of antibiotics” is over 10-fold less common than the phrase “indication for antibiotics.” Therefore, providing more context for your search using the “exact phrase” field may help to better identify standard usage in a particular research area.
###“With all of the words”/“Without the words”
These tools help to narrow your search further by inclusion or exclusion. For example, using the example of “indication of/for antibiotics” above, if you would like to restrict your search to Streptococcus-related research, you can enter the exact phrase and then add “Streptococcus” to the “With all of the words” field. This approach reveals that “indication for antibiotics” is 20 times more frequently used in Streptococcus research than “indication of antibiotics” is, confirming the preferred usage in this context. Alternatively, the “Without the words” field may be used to exclude certain types of research.
###“Return articles published in”
This search tool allows you to specify a journal name; you may want to choose a well-established specialized journal that reflects your specific area of interest. For example, the phrases “experience in” and “experience with” yield similar numbers of hits in a general “exact phrase” search. However, limitation by “British Medical Journal” results in nearly two-fold more hits for “experience in,” indicating that this phrase may be more widely used in the clinical literature. Additional searches in comparable journals (such as “The Lancet” in the case outlined above) may help to confirm the result. A journal-specific search can be particularly useful if you have already identified a target journal for publication, ensuring that you conform to that journal’s specific standards.
We hope that this editing tip has clarified a few advanced ways to use Google Scholar to explore field-specific terminology. If you have a comment or question about this tip, please email us. Best wishes from AJE!