My transcendent moment of Google-fu

Last semester, I had a terrific moment at the reference desk, helping an upperclass student doing some fairly specialized research. The student needed books and/or articles that cited a very prominent work from a decade or so ago, let’s say, Susan Faludi’s Backlash, but she was looking for a particular topic, let’s say work-life balance. So ideally, we’d do a cited-reference search for works that cite Backlash, and then search within those results for “work-life balance,” right?

Right…except our library doesn’t have Web of Knowledge, or any other tool that does good cited-reference searching. So we were using “the poor man’s library’s Web of Knowledge,” Google Scholar. It’s relatively easy to do cited-reference searching in Google Scholar: just search for the item you want to cite, then click on the link for “Cited by 979″ or however many, and you’ve got a list of all the works (in Google Scholar, that is) that cite Backlash.

But how do you search within those results? The student and I combed through the Google interface, including the Advanced Search and the Advanced Search Tips, to no avail. Also, the Advanced Search didn’t include an option for “…and that cites this work:”

That’s when the Transcendent Moment arrived. I was looking at the URL for the page of Google results that showed the works that cite Backlash, and noticed the following string as part of the URL:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&cites=15161639179475456872

I knew that Google encodes your search terms and options as part of the URL for the page of results you get, so this caught my attention. “Hmmm,” I wondered, “could that really mean what I think it means? Does that really mean works that cite Backlash?”

I gave it a shot: I copied that string from my browser’s address bar, and then searched Google Scholar for “work-life balance.” I pasted the string onto the URL for the results, and got this:

Google Scholar search results for “work-life balance” that also cite Susan Faludi’s Backlash.

And then the student, who had been following along through all of this (she’s a really sharp one, she is), and I stared at each other in utter disbelief. It totally worked. I still can’t quite believe it, but now you know the secret too!

Update, March 2, 2009: Thanks to Anne-Marie Dietering‘s moment of synchronicity, I now know that Fred Stutzman has documented exactly the same search trick. His explanation is much clearer than mine, so if you want a nice, step-by-step set of instructions, check out his post.

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