Using Google Books to Find Quotes

By on Nov 20, 2014

Google Books is a free service provided by Google which searches the full text of books and magazines that Google has scanned, converted to text using OCR (optical character recognition), and stored in its digital library. Google Books allows you to search a large number of books for words or phrases.

Using a famous quotation is often a great way to enhance your writing. Google Books is one tool you can use to search for and find quotes that you can use in your writing. It can also be a great tool to find where a key concept or thought appears.

For example, some famous quotes can be very hard to verify. It is often difficult to determine where they originally came from and how they evolved over time. Often, quotes are attributed to people who didn’t say them.

Let’s say you wanted to verify where the famous line “Elementary, my dear Watson,” usually attributed to Sherlock Holmes, actually came from.

The first step would be to go to Google Books and search for “Sherlock Holmes.” An available list of books will be presented in a typical Google search window. Many of these books will include Preview as an option. When Preview is displayed for a book you have access to the full text version of the book.

Google results example
When you click Preview to view the actual book, you will notice on the left-hand panel a search box that allows you to search within that specific book.

Search within Google Books
We can now search for the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” inside the book. The results show that the phrase actually does not appear in the book. Even using a quoted phrase does not find the quote.

Google will always try to find the best possible match. Since it could not find an exact match, it gave you second best. You can see that all the words are there, but the exact phrase is not.

When using this specific search function to find information contained within books, you will have to think not only about the specific phrase but also about any related words or phrases that might help you narrow down the exact quotation you’re looking for.

While you will likely not use this type of search often, when you do want to find a particular piece of information within a book, it can be a very helpful tool.

What are some of the other ways you find good quotations to use in your writing? Let me know in the comments section below.

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