Making friends with Google search

Dawn Downes shares tips she learnt from Karen Blakeman that have helped her - and her colleagues.

We might complain about it, or consider ourselves web searching snobs, but if we are honest we all use Google.  If you are like me you get lazy, and Google knows this.  That is why it personalises your searches automatically.  But you don’t always want this personalisation.  I search for journal titles a lot, but if I don’t want to look at a specific journal I have to search through a lot of hits until I find one that isn’t related to it. 

De-personalise your search

Karen explained how to turn off personalisation by hitting the keys: Ctrl+Shift+P if on Firefox or Internet Explorer or Ctrl+Shift+N on Chrome.  This pops up a new search window where you are incognito.  The downside to this is you have to do it for every session, once you close the window it is gone.

Verbatim and reading level

In the academic world, lecturers try really hard to get their student not to use Google, and rightly so.  Spoof sites and the use of Wikipedia, usually the first hit you get for any subject, can lead to bad information and send the researcher off in the wrong directions.  However, when I was recently working with a Masters student who needed peer-reviewed journal articles about social media marketing, searching the web was a viable way to find the information he needed.  I explained to the student about using “Verbatim”, another one of Karen’s tips, to be sure that Google didn’t help the search along by filling in words to give the search more hits.  You do your search and then click on “Search Tool” then “All results” then “Verbatim”. 

As well above “Verbatim” is “Reading Level”, this helped the student weed out any hits that might be less academic in language.  I explained to him it wasn’t a replacement for our paid for databases, but we were able to find five articles from peer-reviewed journals that he might not have found otherwise. 


When I’m searching for interlibrary loans, if I don’t find a journal article on one of the pay for publisher’s websites, I search Google.  This always was a bit hit or miss in the past, so I was excited when Karen told us about searching by file type “filetype: .pdf”.   Using this with my search terms I can see if the article is available on the web with free access.  This is good for conference papers also, as most of the time if they are available it will be in .pdf form.  When we were discussing this she also gave me wise advice, be sure that what you are looking at isn’t a pre-published write up of an article.  Finding it on-line is great, but only if it is the official article. 

Google profiles

While we were playing with Google Scholar I noted that some of the authors had set up Google profiles.  When I looked at their profiles I could not only see their work that is available on Google Scholar, but also how many times they had been cited and links to citation.  I’m going to pursue this with our lecturers. I would like to encourage them to set up their own profiles.  I think it would be a great way for lecturers to advertise their work and to check on how it is being used.   

Overall the day was spent searching Google and using Karen’s tips to refine our skills to make the most use of our time in the future.  I would highly recommend her workshops if you get a chance to go!  See her blog at for more great advice.

Dawn attended Karen Blakeman’s UKeiG  workshop Making Google Behave.  For more information, see the UKeiG webpage.  She is Senior Library Assistant at the University of Winchester.