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. The techniques below will be helpful when looking for information on the Web.

Remember: MORE search results are NOT better. If you narrow your search well, you will get fewer and, most often, more relevant results.

scrabble board with search tip words
  • 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 30 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. Google has decided instead of the plus sign to use quote marks for subsequent words (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.

It's also important to remember that many search engines on the Web use free-text indexing. This means that whatever search terms you enter are looked for anywhere in the entire document. As a result, hundreds, even hundreds of thousands, of documents can be retrieved, but many may be irrelevant or only slightly related to your search topic.

For example, a search on the topic "space walk" may pick up an irrelevant item such as the one below:

example of a Web search for the topic "Space Walk"

results of space walk search with paragraph referring to walk through a home and closet space

As you can see from this example, it's important that you carefully examine your results to be sure the Web page is about your topic.

Chapter 6 — Page 9