Is there anything that Google can't find? Actually, yes there is.
As a start for searching, Google (and Google Scholar) are pretty great. However, I'm sure you've had the experience of looking for something on Google, only to find a ton of irrelevant things, or not exactly what you are looking for. Google suffers from two basic problems:
There are ways to make Google a little smarter, and they will be discussed in another part of this guide. There are also specific library databases that can help you find relevant articles for your assignments. These databases are a little better than Google in that they are more narrow in scope than Google (for example, searching for "plasma" in a Biology-oriented database is more likely to give results having to do with the blood component rather than the state of matter). They also utilize something called controlled vocabulary which will be discussed in the next section. Finally, using Google (and Google Scholar to an extent) will search all types of web sources, not just scholarly ones. It's important to know how to evaluate what you're looking at, and resources in this course will help you to do just that.
You probably know that there are certain preferred words used to describe different things, usually under different circumstances or in different systems. One example of this would be social media connections. What do you call a connection on Facebook? On Twitter or Instagram? How about on LinkedIn?
This is true of both scientific disciplines and databases. For example, take the word plasma. If you asked a physicist to define it, you'd probably get something different from what a biologist or doctor would say - a state of matter versus a component of blood).
So, it's important to become familiar with the way concepts and techniques are described in your field of interest. The best way to do this is to read, read, and read some more! Pay attention to the way ideas and experiments are described in the literature. For example, in medicine, you've probably heard of the term "heart attack". Searching for that in the medical literature might get you some articles, but you'd soon discover that the preferred term in the medical community is "myocardial infarction". Similarly, in the chemical community, common names of chemicals (for example, polyacetylene) are being phased out in favor of IUPAC names (polyethyne), but if you want to find older articles as well as newer articles, you need to know both!
Here are a few sources to look out for that will help you learn preferred vocabulary:
1. If you are just getting started with background information, trusted encyclopedias or reference books often have categories or broad topics associated with concepts. These might be helpful in finding related and accurate words to use in your search strategies. Here's an example - scroll to the bottom of the page to view the Categories.
2. Scholarly articles sometimes (but not always) have a section in the full text labeled Keywords, usually near the Abstract - here's an example.
3. An excellent way to get an idea of preferred wording is to use a specialized subject database. Some recommended ones for this class are on the Recommended Databases page. All these databases show you groupings of preferred vocabulary when you search, although they are called slightly different things in each one. There is more about that elsewhere in this guide.
It should be noted though that Google Scholar, as great as it can be, doesn't offer any help with discovering preferred terminology - it recommends reading secondary sources!
Literature databases usually index several kinds of scholarly writing. It's important to be familiar with them so that you choose the correct type of article for your assignments. Different databases may call them different things; more about that elsewhere in this guide.
In general, Original Research Articles are usually peer-reviewed. Some databases will let you narrow your search to only return peer-reviewed articles. If, however you are working in a database or search engine (like Google Scholar) that doesn't let you do this, there are a few things you can look for to determine if an article is peer-reviewed.