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New Sidebar Options: Reading Level and Dictionary

Back in December, when Google first introduced its reading level limit on the advanced search page, I thought it strange that it appeared there and not in the "search tools" section of the sidebar since most of the new advanced search features were showing up there and not on the advanced search page. So after complaining about the reading level limit not being in the sidebar at last month's Computers in Libraries conference, and then discussing it with Tasha Bergson-Michelson (a Search Education Curriculum Fellow at Google), I was pleased to see the addition of the reading level limits to the sidebar today. First noticed last Friday at Google OS, it seems to be rolled out to all of the computers and browsers that I'm using.

It has been interesting to watch much of the coverage today, by many who think that the option is new. I guess that does reinforce my opinion that few people notice the options in the advanced search. At least a few more seem to notice it when it is in the sidebar, even though searchers still need to click on the "More search tools" link to see them.

If you've not used the reading level limits previously, just run a search, click on the "More search tools" in the left sidebar, and clicking "Reading Level." This will have the same result as using the advanced search page and choosing "Annotate results with reading level." It will display a percentage analysis of the results divided into basic, intermediate, and advanced levels and tag each result just below the title with a note identifying the reading level of that page. To limit results to just one of the reading levels, click the the level by the bar graph at the top.

Reading Level

Wondering why some Wikipedia articles show up as "advanced" while some university pages are labeled "basic?" Take a look at Daniel Russell's (a Google developer) explanation


Along with the new Reading Level search tool, Google has also added a "Dictionary" search tool. Google has had a long history of connecting search words to dictionary definitions. Searchers used to be able to click on their search terms in the now-gone blue bar at the top. The words (or the definition link) went to and then in 2005 to By the end of 2009, Google was using its own definitions, including automatically generated ones from the web. Now, the new dictionary search tool may retrieve information in these various sections:

The fine print at the bottom states that "The usage examples, images and web definitions on this page were selected automatically by a computer program." The Web definitions seem to match the results searchers can get from using the define: operator (compare define:library with the new results). Of course, the librarian in me would like to know where all the other sections originate, and it would be even better to have citations to the sources on the page. For someone looking for usage and definitions, this is a useful source, but if it is a student that needs to cite the source, it is a problem, especially since Google might change it at any time.

The older Google Dictionary which used to be available at seems to be gone (redirecting to the new service), except in a Google cache copy for now and in this screenshot. I'll be curious to see how long the new Google Dictionary lasts.

Google Dictionary circa 2010

By Greg R. Notess. Dated Apr 11, 2011 in Google

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