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Web Search Strategies

You will probably want to select a few search engines and learn the tricks for effectively using each by visiting their help pages. Keep in mind: MORE search results are NOT better. If you narrow your search well, you will get fewer and more relevant results.

For Example 

Let's say you were interested in learning more about "Tiger's Milk," an essential ingredient in Peruvian cooking. A simple search for the keywords tiger's milk may pick up many irrelevant results having to do with Tiger's Milk, the nutrition bar:

image of tiger's milk nutrition bar

It's important that you carefully construct your searches and examine your results to be sure the Web pages you find are about your topic. Use the following Advanced Search Techniques to help you craft more precise searches that will get you the search results you really want.  

  • Choose a variety of keywords and phrases.
    Brainstorming before you start searching will generate a good list of keywords and phrases. Try to imagine what words the author of the web page would use. If the results don't relate to your topic, try different keywords.
  • Be specific.
    You can create more targeted searches if you use phrases. Most search engines allow you to put quotes around a phrase, and this technique will help retrieve more relevant results.
  • Try different searches.
    Search engines use sophisticated equations to calculate the number of times your search terms appear on a page and show you what they determine to be the most relevant results first. If the first 20 sites are not relevant, try a different search. If you are not satisfied after a few searches, try a different search engine.
  • Use advanced search techniques.
    Just as you use Boolean operators (AND/OR/NOT) when searching databases, you can also use them when using search engines. Here are a few guidelines:
    • Search engines assume the Boolean operator AND when processing your search, so you don't need to use AND between words.
    • Because search engines often return hundreds of results, you generally won't need to use OR in your search.
    • For the Boolean operator NOT, most search engines use "-" (a minus sign) before a word (e.g., college -community).
    • Most search engines ignore common words such as "the," "and," "I." If there is a word in your search string that is essential to your query, then use "+" (a plus sign) in front of it. Note: Google uses quote marks instead of a plus sign for this purpose (e.g., college "community").
    • To search for a phrase, use quotation marks around the words (e.g., "Star Wars Episode I").
    • Many search engines have other advanced search capabilities such as limiting by language or type of information. Read the help screens to see which special features are available.


Chapter 6 — Page 9