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Here are a few tips

All search engines can do much more than word searches. The exact syntax varies between the search engines so you might need to use one of the options.

Here are few tips.

  • Being specific helps
    Word order can dramatically change the results. Searching ‘general montgomery’ brings of pages about military history while ‘montgomery general’ lists hospitals. (The use of wildcards such as * ? or % is not recommended and not well supported.) 
  • Be very specific
    If you know exactly what you are looking for then surround it in "double quotes". This is what teachers do to see if you have lifted chunks of your essay or paper from the web.
  • A bit of maths helps
    The + and – operators are powerful. (These are the AND and NOT Boolean operators, just quicker to type). The minus sign is powerful, as it allows the search to exclude a lot of clutter. The + is not assumed by search engines - They assume the OR operator. So the search will find results for each and every word but rank them so it looks like an AND search. Altavista was an early search engine which set things out in plain English but was taken over by Yahoo. This article explains its history.
  • Operators
    These are words that can prefix any search to focus the search. They keep changing but they are extremely useful for tracking down a half remembered URL or web name. eg Google
  • Choose your words carefully

    A word-search engine is the way most of us track down what you are looking for. But you need to choose your words and their order with care:

    carrot origin orange - produces a lot of recipes for strange soups (I was researching the carrots origin in Afghanistan) while;
    original carrot
    – plunges you up to your elbows in recipes, but this time for cakes.
    origin carrot
    – starts to throw up some information about the history of the vegetable and
    origin orange carrot
    – throws up a number of sites that yield the information about the development of the purple root crop discovered in Middle Asia.

  • Check it out
    Type the "info:" operator before a URL in Google's search box will discover links to and from that page. Other search engines deliver similar results if you prefix the URL with 'info:'. AllTheWeb's URL Investigator is similar (Just type in the URL under the web tab).  Use the main URL rather than a remote page on the site if you want any results. If a site has some links to organisations you respect, it has some credibility. This can provide a confidence check on the status of the information provided.
  • Special search engines
    • Intute – search engine -checked by human researchers – for researchers.
    • Dogpile and Clusty aggregate the other search engine and add a little processing to the results.
    • Wayback Machine – Maybe the page you’re looking for no longer exists? You have to give it an exact URL to find the entire history for the domain.
    • Bloglines – A search engine just for finding blogs.
  • Advanced options
    If you don’t like to remember all the rules you could use some of these advanced pages. The range of filters they offer is astonishing.
  • Language
    A few years ago the search was confined to one language but that barrier is being breached and improving daily. Once you think you find what you want, the problem of translation arises. Be amused but also be grateful that there are geeks out there attempting to make all world's information available across language barriers. Try Babelfish.
  • Proximity searching
    Google uses a synonym search but asks you "Do you mean"? It also has a 'related:' operator. (There used to be a 'NEAR' operator search for this word words nearby alphabetically but that has gone now and they offer it automatically - which is great if you are bad at typing OR enter a word like 'colour'.)


© Chas Jonesauthor; formerly nerd responsible for keeping the site running; spent over 25 years in computer business; started out dusting bugs off valves, but in time graduated to writing software and managing projects; as published author with stack of waiting-to-be-published manuscripts tucked away, WritersServices is answer to his silent prayer; his book 'Ordinary Heroes' An extraordinary true story of wartime adventure; recently published book about Battle of Fulford-'Fulford the forgotten battle of 1066', published by Tempus ISBN 0752438107 2004 (revised 2006 & 2008 & 2010)

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