How to Search the Internet Effectively
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How to Search the Internet Effectively Search Engines Internet search sites can search enormous databases of Web pages, using titles, keywords or text. You can maximize the potential of search engines by learning how they work, and how to use them quickly and effectively. The challenge is to ask your question the right way, so that you don't end up overwhelmed with too many search results, underwhelmed with too few, or simply unable to locate the material that you need. As with most skills, practice makes perfect! Getting Started Before doing a search, it's important to define your topic as completely and succinctly as possible. Write down exactly what information you're looking for, why you're looking for it, and what you're not looking for. This will help you to discover the best keywords for your search. Keywords With the exception of search engines such as AskJeeves.com, which will take questions in the form of actual queries, most work best if you provide them with several keywords. So how do you determine which keywords will work best? Most users submit 1.5 keywords per search, which is not enough for an effective query - the recommended maximum is 6 to 8 carefully chosen words, preferably nouns and objects. (Search engines consider articles and pronouns clutter.) Avoid verbs, and use modifiers only when they help to define your object more precisely - as in "feta cheese" rather than just "cheese." Now you have your keywords. How do you enter them into the search engine? Use of Phrases Your most powerful keyword combination is the phrase. Phrases are combinations of two or more words that must be found in the documents you're searching for in the EXACT order shown. You enter a phrase - such as "feta cheese" - into a search engine, within quotation marks. Some searches provide specific options for phrases, while others don't allow them at all; but most will allow you to enter a phrase in quotation marks. Check the "Help" files of the search engine you're using to be sure what it accepts. Punctuation and Capitalization Most search engines are insensitive to case: you can type your queries in uppercase, lowercase, or a mix of cases. If you use lowercase, most engines will match on both upper and lower case; so for general searches, lowercase is the safest form to use.
Not all search engines handle punctuation the same way. When in doubt, consult the "Help" file. Boolean Basics "Boolean" searching (named after George Boole, the 19th-century mathematician who founded the field of symbolic logic) is a powerful technique that can narrow your search to a reasonable number of results, and increase the chance of those results being useful. Boolean searches are simple to learn and tremendously effective. The three most commonly used Boolean commands (or "operators") are AND, OR and AND NOT. AND means "I want only documents that contain both/all words." For instance, the search "London" AND "Big Ben" AND "Buckingham Palace" AND "Trafalgar Square" would return only documents that contained all four keywords or phrases. AND is the most frequently used Boolean command. OR means "I want documents that contain either word; I don't care which." The query "London" OR "Big Ben" OR "Buckingham Palace" OR "Trafalgar Square" would return all documents that contained even one of these four keywords or phrases. Use OR to string together synonyms; be careful about mixing it with AND. AND NOT means "I want documents that contain this word, but not if the document also contains another word." The query "London" AND "Big Ben" AND NOT "Buckingham Palace" would return documents that include London and Big Ben, but not those that also include Buckingham Palace. Remember that AND NOT only applies to the word or phrase that immediately follows it. Most search engines support the AND NOT command. It is sometimes called BUT NOT or NOT, and is sometimes indicated by placing a minus sign (-) before the term or phrase to be removed. (Check the search tips of the engine you're using to see which form of AND NOT it accepts). Before you apply AND NOT, see what results you get from a simpler search. AND NOT is a great way to weed out results you don't want, such as pornography. Quick Tips
Use nouns as query keywords. Never use articles ("a," "the"), pronouns ("he," "it"), conjunctions ("and," "or") or prepositions ("to," "from") in your queries
Use 6 to 8 keywords per query
Where possible, combine keywords into phrases by using quotation marks, as in "solar system"
Spell carefully, and consider alternate spellings
Avoid redundant terms
Check the "Help" function of the particular search engine you're using, since they all have their own quirks and preferences
A successful Internet search can take several tries. But remember: it's estimated that there are between 200 and 800 million documents online - with no master system for organizing this information! No wonder effective searches take knowhow, patience and ingenuity. To find out about more about search engines, check out Search Engine Watch. This site has the latest information about the best search engines available, searching tips, and much more.
SEARCH ENGINES Search engines are very different from subject directories. While humans organize and catalog subject directories, search engines rely on computer programs called spiders or robots to crawl the Web and log the words on each page. With a search engine, keywords related to a topic are typed into a search "box." The search engine scans its database and returns a file with links to websites containing the word or words specified. Because these databases are very large, search engines often return thousands of results. Without search strategies or techniques, finding what you need can be like finding a needle in a haystack. To use search engines effectively, it is essential to apply techniques that narrow results and push the most relevant pages to the top of the results list. Below are a number of strategies for boosting search engine performance. When a "practice" link appears, click on the link to practice the technique with AltaVista's search engine.
IDENTIFY KEYWORDS When conducting a search, break down the topic into key concepts. For example, to find information on what the FCC has said about the wireless communications industry, the keywords might be: FCC wireless communication BOOLEAN AND Connecting search terms with AND tells the search engine to retrieve web pages containing ALL the keywords. FCC and wireless and communication
The search engine will not return pages with just the word FCC. Neither will it return pages with the word FCC and the word wireless. The search engine will only return pages where the words FCC, wireless, and communication all appear somewhere on the page. Thus, AND helps to narrow your search results as it limits results to pages where all the keywords appear. Practice AND BOOLEAN OR Linking search terms with OR tells the search engine to retrieve web pages containing ANY and ALL keywords. (FCC or wireless or communication) When OR is used, the search engine returns pages with a single keyword, several keywords, and all keywords. Thus, OR expands your search results. Use OR when you have common synonyms for a keyword. Surround OR statements with parentheses for best results. To narrow results as much as possible, combine OR statements with AND statements. For example, the following search statement locates information on purchasing a used car: (car or automobile or vehicle) and (buy or purchase) and used Practice OR & AND BOOLEAN AND NOT AND NOT tells the search engine to retrieve web pages containing one keyword but not the other. dolphins and not Miami The above example instructs the search engine to return web pages about dolphins but not web pages about the "Miami Dolphins" football team. Use AND NOT when you have a keyword that has multiple meanings. The need for AND NOT often becomes apparent after you perform an initial search. If your search results contain irrelevant results (e.g., Saturn the car rather than Saturn the planet), consider using AND NOT to filter out the undesired websites. Practice AND NOT
IMPLIED BOOLEAN: PLUS & MINUS In many search engines, the plus and minus symbols can be used as alternatives to full Boolean AND and AND NOT. The plus sign (+) is the equivalent of AND, and theminus sign (-) is the equivalent of AND NOT. There is no space between the plus or minus sign and the keyword. NOTE: AltaVista's Simple Search requires the use of plus and minus rather than AND, OR, and AND NOT. +welding +process +Saturn -car couch sofa IMPORTANT: Use AltaVista's Simple Search for implied Boolean (+/-) searches, and use AltaVista's Advanced Search for full Boolean (AND, OR, AND NOT) searches. Practice Implied Boolean (+/-) PHRASE SEARCHING Surrounding a group of words with double quotes tells the search engine to only retrieve documents in which those words appear side-by-side. Phrase searching is a powerful search technique for significantly narrowing your search results, and it should be used as often as possible. "John F. Kennedy" "Walt Disney World" "global warming" For best results, combine phrase searching with implied Boolean (+/-) or full Boolean (AND, OR, and AND NOT) logic. +"heart disease" +cause "heart disease" and cause
The above example tells the search engine to retrieve pages where the words heart disease appear side-by-side and the word cause appears somewhere else on the page. NOTE ON IMPLIED BOOLEAN LOGIC (+/-): When a phrase search is combined with additional keywords using implied Boolean logic (+/-), you must put a plus or minus sign before the phrase as well as the other keywords. If the search involves a phrase with no additional keywords (e.g., "Walt Disney World"), the plus sign before the quotes is optional. Practice Phrase Searching (Implied) Practice Phrase Searching (Full Boolean) PLURAL FORMS, CAPITAL LETTERS, AND ALTERNATE SPELLINGS Most search engines interpret lower case letters as either upper or lower case. Thus, if you want both upper and lower case occurrences returned, type your keywords in all lower case letters. However, if you want to limit your results to initial capital letters (e.g., "George Washington") or all upper case letters, type your keywords that way. Like capitalization, most search engines interpret singular keywords as singular or plural. If you want plural forms only, make your keywords plural. A few search engines support truncation or wildcard features that allow variations in spelling or word forms. The asterisk (*) symbol tells the search engine to return alternate spellings for a word at the point that the asterisk appears. For example, capital* returns web pages with capital, capitals, capitalize, and capitalization. Practice Truncation (Implied) Practice Truncation (Full Boolean) TITLE SEARCH Field searching is one of the most effective techniques for narrowing results and getting the most relevant websites listed at the top of the results page. A web page is composed of a number of fields, such as title, domain, host, URL, and link. Searching effectiveness increases as you combine field searches with phrase searches and Boolean logic. For example, if you wanted to find information about George Washington and his wife Martha, you could try the following search: +title:"George Washington" +President +Martha
title:"George Washington" and President and Martha The above TITLE SEARCH example instructs the search engine to return web pages where the phrase George Washington appears in the title and the words President and Martha appear somewhere on the page. Like plus and minus, there is no space between the colon (:) and the keyword. Practice Title Searching (Implied) Practice Title Searching (Full Bool DOMAIN SEARCH In addition to the title search, other helpful field searching strategies include the domain search, the host search, the link search, and the URL search. The DOMAIN SEARCH allows you to limit results to certain domains such as websites from the United Kingdom (.uk), educational institutions (.edu), or government sites (.gov). +domain:uk +title:"Queen Elizabeth" domain:uk and title:"Queen Elizabeth"
+domain:edu +"lung cancer" +smok* domain:edu and "lung cancer" and smok*
The current U.S. domains are the following: .com .edu .gov .org .mil .net
= = = = = =
a commercial business an educational institution a governmental institution a non-profit organization a military site a network site
Most websites originating outside the U.S. have a country domain indicating the country of origin. For a list of all country domains, visit this site.
Practice Domain Searching (Implied) Practice Domain Searching (Full Boolean) HOST SEARCH The HOST SEARCH comes in handy when you need to find something located at a large site that does not have an internal search engine. With this search technique, you can search all the pages at a website (contained in the engine's database) for keywords or phrases of interest. NOTE: Because the major search engines do not always log an entire website, use an internal search engine, if the website has one, for best results. +host:www.disney.com +"special offer" host:www.disney.com and "special offer" Practice Host Searching (Implied) Practice Host Searching (Full Boolean) URL SEARCH The URL SEARCH limits search results to web pages where the keyword appears in the URL or website address. A URL search can narrow very broad results to web pages devoted to the keyword topic. +url:halloween +title:stories url:halloween and title:stories Practice URL Searching (Implied) Practice URL Searching (Full Boolean) LINK SEARCH Use the LINK SEARCH when you want to know what websites are linked to a particular site of interest. For example, if you have a home page and you are
wondering if anyone has put a link to your page on their website, use the Link search. Researchers use link searches for conducting backward citations. link:www.pepsi.com link:www.ipl.org/ref/ Practice Link Searching (Implied) Practice Link Searching (Full Boolean)
Copyright © 1999 - 2004 by Debbie Flanagan, Fort Lauderdale, FL. All rights reserved. Source: Search Tutorial: Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet by the WebTools Company. Republished with permission. The information in this document has been extracted from the complete version of Search Tutorial: Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet, which was researched, written and maintained by The WebTools Company, of VisualMetrics Corporation.