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Primary Sources: Using Google and Google Scholar

A guide to finding and using Primary source materials


Tips for Focusing your Google Search

Tips for focusing your search

Every discipline has its own universe of primary sources. Ask questions to focus your search. For example, you might ask:

  • Who would have produced sources relative to your topic?
  • What types of sources might exist?
  • When would they have been produced?
  • Where?
  • Why and for whom?

Be Creative

Use images, oral histories, maps, statistics, diaries, personal papers, organizational records, government documents, material culture, film, alternative press, pamphlets, posters, printed ephemera, and literature in your research.  Use published and unpublished, printed and digital sources.  

Video Tutorial - Using Google Scholar

Google vs. Google Scholar

While Google searches the entire Web, Google Scholar limits its searches to only academic journal articles produced by commercial publishers or scholarly societies. Google Scholar eliminates material from corporations, non-scholarly organizations, and from individuals.  Google Scholar is another way to find academic/scholarly articles on just about any subject and is especially useful when the topic being researched is multidisciplinary.

Google - Advanced Search Techniques

Advanced Google-only Search Techniques:

ISO (International Standard) country codes are one way to format Google searches in order to more specifically focus your queries.  The ISO country codes are internationally recognized codes that designate every country and most of the dependent areas as a two-letter combination or a three-letter combination.  It is like an acronym that stands for a country or a state.

Using codes saves time and avoids errors as instead of using a country’s name (which will change depending on the language being used), we can use a combination of letters and/or numbers that are understood all over the world.

For example, all national postal organizations throughout the world exchange international mail in containers identified with the relevant country code. Internet domain name systems use the codes to define top-level domain names such as “.fr” for France, “.au” for Australia.

1.  Use the formulation site:xx followed by a two letter country code, to find web sites based in that country. Find the two letter ISO country codes here. This will find sites based in that country.

  • Example: Cuba AND terrorism AND documents AND site:cu (will find sites in Cuba relating to terrorism)
  • Example: "armenian genocide" site:tr (will find information relating to the topic from Turkish websites)

2.  Consider searching for your topics in only certain domains of the Internet by entering these terms at the end of your search. Government sites (site:gov) or American sites (site:edu, may be inclined toward more reliability. You must assess this!

  • site:gov (will find only U.S. or State government documents)
  • site:edu (will find only U.S. academic institution sites)
  • site:org (will find only non-profit sites, museums, organizations)
  • site:int (will find only sites that are "international" such as U.N. organizations)


  • "bracero program" and california site:gov
  • "oral histories" site:edu
  • "human trafficking"  documents site:int