Searching Technical Terms on Google

A case-study of searching the correct full form of “RT-PCR”

In the third episode of the Trinka Podcast, Dr. KK walks you through a method to research technical terminology that might help you in getting accurate answers faster.


It is 2023 and we are three years into the COVID-19 pandemic and the term RT-PCR has become part of our daily vocabulary. While “PCR” clearly stands for “polymerase chain reaction,” let us try to see what RT in the abbreviation RT-PCR stands for. Our speaker, Dr KK, shares his discovery of a technical terminology research process so that you can also employ this technique when you do your own research.

Meet the Host


About the Speaker

Dr. Krishna Kumar Venkitachalam

The Trinka Podcast is hosted by Dr Krishna Kumar Venkitachalam, who prefers to be referred as Dr KK. He is a surgeon by qualification, but is very passionate about science, communication and languages. Also, he has been in the academic publication industry for the last 15 years.

The three options for the full form of RT-PCR”

We have three options of what the correct full form of RT-PCR is. The first one is “real-time” or quantitative PCR, which is abbreviated as qPCR, the second option is “reverse transcription,” PCR, and the third one is “reverse transcription” or qPCR. We are not getting into the technical aspects of what each technique is and what the expansion stands for. Instead, we are just trying to find out what is the right expansion if you were to use the term RT-PCR or the abbreviation RT PCR in your manuscript.

Searching the web for “credible” sources of a technical terminology

So, how would you start your search process? You can do Google searches and go to Wikipedia, but Dr. KK recommends that you search first on a scholarly or an academic search engine.

The journey of unravelling the full form of RT-PCR

Google Scholar search

The most popular way of searching for the credibility or correct usage of a technical term is to do a Google Scholar search. Google Scholar makes it simple to search for scholarly literature. You can search across many disciplines and sources from a single location, including articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites. Google Scholar searches the world of scholarly research to find relevant work.

So, to check the full-form of the term, Dr. KK put in the query “reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR)” on the search box for Google Scholar, i.e., one of the supposed variations. He was surprised to find that only one research paper had used this entire search query in the body of the research paper itself!

He then moved on to the corresponding search for the term “real time polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR)” which gave him approximately 32,000 results. This huge disparity was not something he expected! So, there seems to be a clear trend on people using RT PCR the abbreviation for the expansion “real time PCR”, but he was not sure if it was right, because RT could also stand for “reverse transcription.”

Searching on subject-specific databases

When in doubt about a technical terminology and not finding any solution on Google Scholar, it is best to turn to subject-specific databases, and the most popular ones, at least for the biosciences and medical domains, would be PubMed and NLM. So, he looked up three of the documents that he could find just to see how confusing it can be. However, after being confused about the right usage for a long time, he at last did found this article, which is a beginner's guide to RT PCR qPCR and RT qPCR, written by Grace Adams from the University of Leicester. The article states that it is a common misconception that RT PCR, Qpcr, and RT qPCR are synonymous. There are similarities, and these similarities often result in the incorrect use of the acronyms. To prevent this, the minimum information for publication of quality quantitative real time PCR experiments guidelines, abbreviated as mi QE guidelines, which were first published in 2009, proposes standardization of these abbreviations. And it goes on to say that they stated the guidelines state that RT PCR the abbreviation should only be used to describe reverse transcription PCR and not real time PCR as is often confused. So that gives you a clearer picture RT in RT PCR should stand for reverse transcription PCR.

Tracing back a source

Now, he did not end his search here. He tried to look up these guidelines themselves, which is the actual source. It’s good practice that whenever you are researching things, you try to go to the actual source itself. So, he looked up the mi QE guidelines and found this. There, in the terminology section or the nomenclature section, written by a lot of experts, proposes that the abbreviation qPCR be used for quantitative real time PCR and that RT qPCR be used for reverse transcription qPCR.


The right options seem to be that qPCR should stand for real time PCR or quantitative PCR. Which is another way to say that RT PCR by itself should stand for reverse transcription PCR and if suppose you want to use RT qPCR, that should stand for reverse transcription qPCR.

This is how you should research technical terminology queries that you might have. You can use any search engine, but you should try to search on the academic search engines where you can look for frequency of occurrences of each of these options to not only glean some information as to how the trends are. So this is something that you can incorporate into your workflow when you're searching for questions on research or technical terminology and find the right answers.

About the Trinka Podcast

This podcast is a continuation of Trinka AI's goal to improve academic writing and promote the sharing of scholarly knowledge. Upcoming episodes will provide language advice for non-native English speakers, as well as updates on language technology and research tools. Additionally, we will feature videos that explain NLP concepts like sentiment analysis, and interviews with experts from Trinka AI and other fields.

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