Recently there was an interesting question posed to an online forum that I frequent. The question was: “How do you spot an amateur in your trade, profession, or hobby?” Surprisingly, only one of the answers was about an activity that most people do every single day: search Google.
Now, it’s certainly dawned on me before that a lot of folks who use Google on a daily basis are not doing so as efficiently as they could be. And as an IT nerd at heart, I like to think I’m a pretty good searcher. That said, I’ve never gotten around to gathering up all my search pointers in one place.
Until now! So here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned from my many years of constant Googling! These tips can be used as the basis for a class lesson plan or could be used as useful pointers to add into your own . Hopefully it’ll provide enough basics so that your students can quickly improve their search abilities and help them find richer, more accurate data online. Here we go!
Less is More
A lot of people who are inexperienced searchers use too many words when searching. For example, searching for “What day will Thanksgiving be on in the year 2016?” yields the following:
Now, if you look through the results, you’ll find the correct answer, but not as quickly as if you’d searched more effectively. By simply searching for “Thanksgiving 2016”, you get this:
Much better! Google is able to detect what you want to know and display it automatically, above all the results. This is why it’s important to remember one critical fact: Google is a computer, not a person. As such, asking natural language questions does not work as well, since almost all websites use words like “what”, “be”, and “on”.
Like I mentioned above, Google is not a human being, it simply looks at the words on the page (among other things) and returns results to you based on those words. Thus, you can also improve your search accuracy by using what I like to call “limiting words”, which are less common words that will still lead you to what you’re looking for.
As an example, suppose you want to look up some information on Java, the Indonesian island. Simply searching “java” gives you results on the Java programming language though. You might even see some on coffee!
Since Google has no way to tell which particular Java you’re talking about, you don’t get an optimal search. Simply tacking “indonesia” onto the end of your search works a lot better:
Another way to do this would be to use the minus sign to remove results that contain certain words. “Java -programming”, for example, would return results that contain the word “Java” but not the word “programming”.
Refine, Refine, Refine
Good searchers can usually find what they’re looking for on the first search, but they still can’t do it 100% of the time. That’s why it’s important to know some of the ways you can refine your search.
For example, to search on Fractus Learning’s website for content on science, you can use do this: “site:fractuslearning.com science”, which will search only this site for the word science. This can be handy if you know an article exists on a particular website but aren’t sure how to find it.
Also, you can search for synonyms of a word by using the tilde character (this: ~) in front of a word. For example, searching for “~inexpensive cars” will also turn up results for “cheap cars”, “affordable cards”, and “low cost cars”. This can be handing for those “it’s on the tip of my tongue” sorts of searches.
Try a Google search for the words “zerg rush“. There is nothing more to say… Just give it a go.
So that’s Part 1! Next week I’ll post Part 2, which will focus on interpreting the results you get from Google after a search. Stay tuned!
Image courtesy of Flickr, Kalexanderson.