The internet contains a wealth of information waiting to be found, but often it can be difficult to narrow down search fields and make your search engine reveal what you are looking for, from reliable sources.

Google, Bing and other search engines allow you to use special shortcuts in your search terms which can dramatically increase the usability and usefulness of such tools. Some of these tools can really help when crafting a translation and are particularly worth noting when starting your career.

1. Quote marks

Quote example for search engineThis shortcut is the holy grail of online searches. If you are looking for a particular phrase which must appear in the search result, simply add quote marks around the search term, e.g. “parallel translations”.

To narrow your results down further, multiple sets of quote marks ensures that all of the quoted phrases appear in the results, but not necessarily joined together. For example, searching “parallel translations” “southampton” will ensure our website comes up as the top result, rather than any information on parallel (side by side) translations.

For translators, this can also act as a great corpus for concordance searches. Unsure of the preposition used with a certain phrase or verb? Search your suggested phrase with quote marks and see whether a reliable number of hits comes up; does the alternative have more or less? If you have very few hits, it might be better to test a new phrase for use in your translation. When searching for unusual medical terms, you can check if a literal translation is used in the target language or whether a different term is preferred, based on the number of hits it receives.

Tip: if something you’re unsure about comes up with a positive result, check the location suffix of the website. If it’s likely to be a literal translation rather than by a native speaker, it’s worth continuing your search until you find a reliable native language source.

NB: This also works in the Windows Explorer search facility, so you can easily and quickly find a search result within your own files, like a personal search engine.

2. Asterisk

Magnifying glass - search engineThe asterisk * acts as a wildcard in your search terms, leaving a placeholder in the search term for the search engine to automatically fill. If you are unsure of which term is best used in a phrase, add an asterisk instead of this word and take a look at the results provided. This tool can work in conjunction with the quote marks.

For example, “medical translation *” will give results including “medical translation services”, “medical translation of the highest quality” and “medical translation agency”, among others.

3. Hyphen

Example of APP search in search engineUsing a hyphen directly before a word can eliminate said word from all search results. This can be particularly useful with phrases or names that are most commonly associated with something else, unrelated to what you are aiming to achieve from your search term.

For example, if you are searching for an acronym such as “APP” and you are convinced it is not an abbreviation for “(mobile) application”, add “-apple”, “-itunes” and “-android” to your search to ensure you exclude most unwanted information relating to such technology.


4. Site-specific searches

Google search engineIf there is a particular site that you would like to search, where you know you’ll find the information you need, add “site:” before the website name and search term.

For example, if you need to find the organigram for the French medical regulatory authority, try adding the following to your search box “ organigramme”.

Make sure there is no space after the colon, before the web address.

5. Using AND / OR

Laptop - search engineIf you are not sure what your search result would be best referenced under, use “OR” between search terms to combine searches and get results containing either of the items (e.g. “clinical trials OR clinical research”). If both terms must be referenced in the search results, use “AND” (e.g. “clinical trials AND Germany”).


There is so much useful information available online, so ensure you save time and reach your desired goal in one hit by incorporating some of the above tips in your next search.

If there are any other search engine tips you find useful as a translator, please let us know via our social media sites (Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn).

You might like to see some of our previous posts for more favourite tips from our office: