Searching Google Scholar for Field-Specific Terms

  • Google Scholar can help you find the most relevant way to use terms about your area of study
  • Google Scholar has basic and advanced search functions that are helpful

Updated on March 12, 2013

the google scholar home page

Using field-specific terminology properly helps make sure that reviewers will think your manuscript fits in with the rest of the literature. What if you are not sure what the most common spelling of a term is? What if there are two possibilities, and you would prefer to use the more common one? While this isn't its primary use, we've found Google Scholar to be a great tool to help you decide when to use which terms in a manuscript in your particular field.

What is Google Scholar?

Google Scholar, a branch of search engine and tech company Google, is an aggregator of scholarly literature. Google Scholar searches as many scholarly publications as it can find and generates information about citations and related articles. Google Scholar will also help you find full text for an article you've searched for. One additional benefit of the tool is its ability to collect large amounts of text from your field and make them searchable. If you have a question about which of two terms is used more frequently, you can simply look for the number of search results for each word.

Here is more information about searching with Google Scholar:

At the Google Scholar homepage, type in the first search term. For this example, we'll choose between immunocompromised and immune-compromised. (I had this discussion recently while writing a review.)

Screenshot of immunocompromised searched on Google Scholar

Press return or click the search button. On the next page, you will see the number of results in the upper left-hand corner. Here, immunocompromised fetched 176,000 results.

Screenshot of number of results of immunocompromised searched on Google Scholar

Now, compare that number to the number of results for immune-compromised:

Screenshot of number of results of immune-compromised searched on Google Scholar

In addition to the much lower number of results (16,000), Google Scholar is actually suggesting the term immunocompromised instead. This feature is helpful when you have entered a term that is used infrequently or is an uncommon or incorrect variant of a common term.

Please note that when searching for a phrase in which the order of words is important, you can click on the down arrow in the search box and choose the ‘exact phrase' option or simply place quotation marks (“) around your terms. Pressing the down arrow will also uncover advanced search options that let you exclude other words or choose a range of dates for publication. Restricting your search to recent articles (e.g., those published in the past five years) can be handy for phrases that have changed meaning over time; by selecting a shorter time frame, you ensure that your results are still relevant.

Screenshot of advanced search function on Google Scholar

Of course, a quick web search is no substitute for an in-depth knowledge of the literature in your field, but the wealth of information available online can sometimes answer questions that arise during the preparation of a manuscript. Google Scholar, in particular, can often help you choose between two terms or verify that a term you use is common to the field.

If you have questions about a specific term that Google Scholar cannot help you answer, e-mail us at [email protected]. We would be happy to offer our opinion.

If you need it, AJE offers high-quality English editing services for academic researchers by subject-area-specific PhDs.

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