How Many Google Scholar Hits Is Enough When Searching for Field-Specific Terms?

When searching for a term, what number of search results (also known as “hits”) is enough to indicate that the term is acceptable usage, rather than an error perpetuated in the literature or an unconventional expression?

In other articles, we described how to use Google Scholar to determine field-specific conventions, how to perform advanced Google Scholar searches, and how Google Scholar is different from Google Ngram Viewer.

However, an unanswered question remains: When searching for a term, what number of search results (also known as “hits”) is enough to indicate that the term is acceptable usage, rather than an error perpetuated in the literature or an unconventional expression? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands?

There is no set benchmark, and in any case, looking only at the number of matches in the literature may not be enough; the quality, diversity, and novelty of those matches should also be considered. Along these lines, if only a relatively low number of papers match your search term, even after you have searched for several permutations of the term, you should browse the results with the following three questions in mind:

Quality: Are the papers in well-regarded, widely read journals in your field? If not, the search term may not be well known in the research community.

Diversity: Are the papers from multiple research groups? If not, the search term may reflect a consistent error by one or two groups.

Novelty: Are the papers relatively recently published? Note that if your research area is newer, your search term may yield limited hits because of its novelty in the literature, and not because it is incorrect usage.

We hope that this editing tip will be useful as you search for field-specific terminology using Google Scholar. Please contact us at [email protected] with any questions or comments about this tip. Thanks for reading!

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