Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 286–290

Using Internet search engines to estimate word frequency


    • Department of PsychologyUniversity of Colorado
  • Geoffrey R. Urland
    • Department of PsychologyUniversity of Colorado
  • Jennifer E. Ma
    • University of Kansas

DOI: 10.3758/BF03195456

Cite this article as:
Blair, I.V., Urland, G.R. & Ma, J.E. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers (2002) 34: 286. doi:10.3758/BF03195456


The present research investigated Internet search engines as arapid, cost-effective alternative for estimating word frequencies. Frequency estimates for 382 words were obtained and compared across four methods: (1) Internet search engines, (2) the Kučera and Francis (1967) analysis of a traditional linguistic corpus, (3) the CELEX English linguistic database (Baayen, Piepenbrock, & Gulikers, 1995), and (4) participant ratings of familiarity. The results showed that Internet search engines produced frequency estimates that were highly consistent with those reported by Kucera and Francis and those calculated from CELEX, highly consistent across search engines, and very reliable over a 6-month period of time. Additional results suggested that Internet search engines are an excellent option when traditional word frequency analyses do not contain the necessary data (e.g., estimates for forenames and slang). In contrast, participants’ familiarity judgments did not correspond well with the more objective estimates of word frequency. Researchers are advised to use search engines with large databases (e.g., AltaVista) to ensure the greatest representativeness of the frequency estimates.

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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2002