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How to capture text from Google Books

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 10.18.01

Google is a great place for searching for things and doing research—not just for the trivial, but also for serious academic research. Google Scholar will give you academic articles and books, and also show where books and articles have been cited elsewhere. And Google Books can give helpful access to books which might be out of print or otherwise unavailable.

But how can you capture text in Google Books? Any kind of download or copy and paste is disabled, but it is a real pain to have to re-type quotations, even though such use presents no breach of copyright, and there is always the danger of errors creeping in.

There is an easy way to do it that, when set up, takes a few seconds.

1. Make sure the text you want is showing in unbroken form in your window on Google Books.

2. Use screen capture to grab a picture of the section of text you are interested in. On a Mac this is really easy using keystrokes Command-Shift-4; this gives you cross-hairs to click and drag over the area you want to capture. This creates a .png file on your desktop.

3. Download a PDF-to-text converter. I use the free PDF OCR X

4. Open PDF OCR and drag the screen shot onto the conversion window. The application seems happy to handle .png files as well as .pdf files.

And violà! You have a text file with the text from the Google Book which you can paste into any other document.

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11 Responses to How to capture text from Google Books

  1. Gabby October 1, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Thanks Ian!

  2. Ian Paul October 1, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    You are welcome! (Had to notify your husband now you have emigrated from Facebookland…)

  3. Dr.Duleep Kumar Samuel November 29, 2014 at 7:01 am #

    thanks works nice

  4. Darren January 1, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

    or you can:

    Highlight a section, then choose the “Search Google” option. That will open a new window in your browser where the text will have been used for a search. Just go to the search field, triple click to highlight the text there, copy and paste into whatever document you want. Done

    • Ian Paul January 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      How interesting. Is there a limit on the size of text you can copy and paste?

    • Doug January 26, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

      How do you highlight a section of a magazine that has entire issues available on Google Books? I don’t see any “Search Google” option besides the one just below the “Subscribe” button, and all it does is highlight words and phrases within the pages of the magazine.

      You can right-click within the text and then click the “Save Page As” function, but all that gets you is the outer box for Google Books, not any of the magazine text.

      Am I missing something?

      Oh, and FYI, Ian: Your next-to-last paragraph should say “voila!” and not “viola!” — unless you intended to cue a stringed instrument. 🙂 Just thought you’d want to know.

  5. sana February 17, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

    thank you soooooooooooooooo much

  6. Mark Knowles November 12, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

    There is a book that I am interest which I want as an ebook unfortunately it is only available as a print book. However it is possible to search the book for text, so Google must have created in electronic form. Your method is the obvious method for copying a small amount of text, but I don’t really want to create a screenshot of every page. Is there a way of grabbing all pages at once? Or purchasing it as ebook even though it is only available as a print book?

    • Ian Paul November 12, 2017 at 9:51 pm #

      Not to my knowledge. That would breach copyright and also reduce essential sales income from print books.


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