A student asked me the other day, “how do you write searches because I don’t always get what I want.” Here are my top three tips to speed your searching and give you more effective answers:
1. Put phrases in quotes. The search engines all put an “and” in between words so if you type:
the search engine will return every page with Syria and every page with massacre. But if you type:
then you will only get pages that have those two exact words next to each other. Using phrase searching will return fewer and higher quality returns.
2. Use the minus sign to eliminate words you don’t want. If you do a search and get a lot of bogus hits, eliminate that word but putting a minus sign before it. For example, if I want to read about the Mirror Awards this year, I would use this search:
“Mirror Awards” -2011 -2010 -2009
It will give me every page that has the two words together Mirror Awards but not any page that has 2011, 2010, 2009 on it, so likely only those that have 2012, or those with earlier dates, but they’ll be lower on the page, likely.
3. When you know you just want to search one site, use the formula for a keyword search at one domain. The formula is:
For example, if I wanted to search for the Mirror Awards, given annually by the Newhouse School (my employer) for the best media writing, then I would put:
“Mirror Awards” site:newhouse.syr.edu
Note that you don’t put the www in your domain.
Try out these tips and comment on how they work, or leave another search tip.