Use Google to Find PDFs for Research

Dec 31, 1969
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Will you: 

PDFs are often a great source for finding reliable, complex, interesting articles about your topic. And it's as easy as adding a couple of filters in Google's Advanced Search. Once you find two or three articles, annotate them using or by putting them up in NowComment. Also learn vocabulary by adding words to Quizlet flashcards, and by making Dialectical Notes.

In this screencast, I show you how to use Google Search to find PDFs for your research. This will give you a list of summaries and links to complete published papers, journal articles, research reports, government documents and more for you read and annotate.

In addition, I show you how easy it is to sort your Google results by date and by reading level, so that you will be able to find current material (if needed) and resources that are appropriate for your level of reading (or maybe will stretch you a bit).

I also show you how to use Quizlet to help you with the vocabulary in these texts and a Personal Crocodoc account to collect and annotate PDFs as you develop your research project.

Finally I show you how, once you’ve annotated these texts, you can use a Dialectical Notes form to help you later when you transcribe and cite parts of these texts in your own writing.

Oh and to start, let me show you why it might be useful to log in and keep a history of your searches.

1. So let’s start by logging in. This is an optional step, and you may need to get your teacher to activate it in Google Apps if it’s not available yet, but it will allow you to review a history of your search terms and the sites you have visited. You can review this with a teacher, a librarian, or your peers to look for gems and trends that you may not have noticed before. You can also easily bookmark and annotate the sites to use in your research.

2. Let’s choose a keyword for your search. Currently I’m interested in multitasking, but when I type that word in, I’m reminded (by the first two things on the list) that “multitasking” is a term borrowed from computer design--a fact that I might refer to in my writing--but for now I’m most interested to find more sources about human multitasking, so I add that word to my search.

3. Now there are two other places to go, two other filters I want to set to get what I want, which is a list of current PDFs sorted by reading level. So first I click on Show search tools in the left column, and I click on Past year and Reading level... [Note: Google has discontinued reading level options.] My search is already shaping up! But I’m reconsidering the time frame a bit. One year might not be enough so let me go into the Custom range and choose, 2008 - 2012, which will give me about 5 years of results.

4. Okay, now to the second place where I need to go to set a filter so that I only get PDFs in my results. Click on the little gear symbol in the top, right-hand corner and go to Advanced search... The only thing you want to change here is the file type which is toward the bottom. Change it to read Adobe Acrobat PDF (.pdf). Click the blue Advanced Search button at the bottom, and check out your page.

5. In the search box, you should see your keyword, plus filetype:pdf. Below that you should see a light blue box that has the words Reading level and the Dates that you’ve chosen for this search. Next you’ll find a graph that shows you how many Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced PDFs you’ll find in your search results. You can click on each of these words to filter out the other results. You’re all set!

6. Go for it, but be picky. Choose articles that look well-researched (They have long bibliographies), peer-reviewed (They come from a journal), and complex (You’ll have to really work at understanding it, looking up some words, asking questions). And most important choose two or three articles that seem to have a different perspectives on your topic. Find something that challenges your view, something that isn’t the common, mainstream answers to your inquiry question. Find articles that are interesting -- but also ones that you can digest, given your reading level and your level of passion for this topic.

7. Once you’ve found an article that you think will be interesting and will stretch your thinking a bit, annotate them using or by putting them up in NowComment. [Note: Personal Crocodoc no longer exists.] download it to your desktop, but for now, let’s just get 2 or 3 PDFs up in your account, so that you can start annotating them online. You might also paste an article into a Google Document and add comments for your annotations.

8. That’s almost it. Oh, a couple of more things. After you’ve annotated an article or perhaps when you're still reading, add new vocabulary words to a flashcard set at And finally when you've finished reading an article add transcriptions and reactions to the important parts on a Dialectical Notes form. There’s a Google Template with instructions for what to do in the Guides or you can go to

9. Have fun struggling with the fascinating studies, reports, and articles that you find in the world of PDFs.