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Training scholarly information handling for geoscience faculty & PhDs: 2F: searching for reports


There is often valuable and recent applied, factual and policy information in (government or NGO) reports.

This page has info on:

  1. Reports as a source of information
  2. Searching for reports with Google and Bing
  3. Searching for reports with Worldcat and Picarta

You might try:

  1. Searching for reports using Google; try out using filters for
    1. filetype (PDF),
    2. domain of an organisation (e.g.
    3. reading level

Reports: information from governments, think tanks, NGO's and more

The role of reports in science

Reports from governments, think tanks, pressure groups, NGO's and other stakeholders may be an important source of information in scientific research. Reports may contain:

  • aims of social organisations
  • policy assessments
  • efficiency reports
  • political and ethical interpretations of scientific progress
  • results from surveys
  • etc.

Sometimes we use the reports because the organisation publishing the report is the subject of our research, e.g. when you write on the UN system. In other cases information from reports is the reason why we start our research. And in yet other cases reports contain scientific analyses which, just like scientific journal articles, are used to strenghten the argument a a paper or thesis. Always be careful with using information in reports as they are often written with the objectives and interests of the publishing or financing organisation in mind.

Searching for reports

  • If you only have a subject in mind: use web search engines Google or Bing and add a filter on PDF to your search terms: filetype:PDF
  • If you already know which organisation has published the report, first check out the website of the organisation
  • If you already know which organisation has published the report, but the website is not very well organised, use the web search engines and enter the domain of the organisation in question, for instance You can also filter by file format PDF.

searching report with WorldCatAnother option is to search Worldcat. Many important reports have been published "officially" and acquired by libraries. In this way they are included in these integrated national and worldwide catalogues. This is not straightforwaird hoewver as these catalogues do not offer options to filter out report. You have to use advanced search and combine search terms indicating your subject as 'keyword' with names of publishing organisations as 'author' as in the screenshot. N.B. Most recent reports will be available on the web so a targeted web search will often be more efficient.

OECD reports are a special case: Utrecht University subscribes to large parts of the OECD iLibrary with many thousands of reports on economics, regional development, science, industry and services, transport, and innovation and environment.

OECD iLibrary

OECD iLibrary

OECD iLibrary is OECD’s Online Library for Books, Papers and Statistics and the gateway to OECD’s analysis and data.

Utrecht University Library subscribes to 8 themes in OECD iLibrary:

However, many content areas are freely available to any site visitor, such as the OECD Factbook, Working Papers, OECD Key Tables, and more.

Searching for reports with Google or Bing: use filters!

Many organisations publish their own reports on their own website. These are often freely available and findable with web search engines such as Google and Bing.

  • Document type filter - Search Google or Bing and use the filter document/filetype to restrict to PDF (via the 'advanced search' options). This will decimate the number of results and limit it to more sustantial and relevant documents.
  • Site filter - If you know what organisation has importants reports you can search with a site filter, e.g. for the environmental organisation of the UN. NB. Bing has no menu option for this: you have to type it in manually.
  • Search terms indicating you are searching for reports - as a last options try adding terms such as report OR research OR investigation.

Filters gebruiken voor rapporten zoeken in Google

using filters in your search to find reports in Google

Searching for reports with Worldcat and Picarta

Many reports only become available as online documents and so will, to an increasing extent, not be found in library catalogues. Yet there are still many important reports of large (governmental) organisations which are published officially and so are included in the national (Picarta) and international (Worldcat) library catalogues. In those cases the selection is to your advantage: if you search in this manner you avoid very brief reports, commercial  reports or reports that are only temporarily of interest. For older and really historical reports these catalogues are the best option.

Tips for the use of library catalogues if you want to find (all) reports of organisations (if you do not have a specific title or do not know the name of the author):

  • Advanced: use the advanced search interface to combine subject terms, names of organisations and any filters in a single search action
  • Also abbreviations: always search by the full name of the organisation, but also use the abbreviation. Please note that abbreviations can stand for different things, especially in a worldwide catalogue like Worldcat
  • Book or no book: do not filter in advance on material type (books, articles etc.). Reports might look like a book, but are often part of a series which are sometimes included as journal issues in library catalogues. Setting up filters after your search is less risky.
  • Author: in Picarta do not search by author or publisher but by corporation. Worldcat regards both organisation and writer as author
  • Names changes: names of organisations often change. Be aware of this, especially if you are looking for historical reports

searching for reports in Picarta

In Picarta if you do not know the exact author use 'corporation' as author when you search reports by a certain organisation