Searching is usually not an activity with a clear sequence. Only few people find what they’re really looking for after their first search query. Searching seems to be more characterized by a repeating cycle, in which we begin at one point and continue on according to what the search results show us. The result can be partially guessed, but we can never be completely sure. At the same time, you’ll be better at searching the more you understand a given topic. Students often have the feeling that there is no information on a given topic, while their only problem is not knowing how to ask.
Three possible approaches are generally listed:
- You enter a search query very generally and gradually clarify what you’re looking for according to the results shown. This is the most frequent approach on the present internet.
- You try to enter a search query as specifically as possible and, if you don’t find what you’re looking for, you gradually expand the query. For example, this method is used often in searching for scientific resources in databases.
- You try to search for particular details (like Hercule Poirot does in detective stories) and link the resulting sources and information together. Searching for information on a certain topic can always be divided into some smaller segments.
These approaches are called research strategies, and in reality they are combined together or modified in various ways. The way in which we search in practice is usually more complex and varied than a direct approach.
We have already used the phrase “search query” several times. But what does it actually mean? Search engines don’t usually work with the concept of natural languages, and therefore asking with a common sentence like “What do people in Sweden think about open shelves in libraries?” can be done only in a limited manner, and you’ll have to consider something called key words. These are usually nouns or fixed phrases that will allow you to structure your question. The key words that we would take from our question, i.e. something that we’re really interested in, would be: “open shelves”, “library”, “Sweden” and possibly “public opinion”. Key words are usually not interjections, prepositions or conjunctions (which, by the way, are words that are more difficult to search for).
You can then expand your search query – for example by translating it into English if not much is written about it in your native language. Then you can decide whether to leave both variations of the words in the search query or just the one you’re trying at the moment. It is also very useful to try different versions of words or use synonyms. Key words are usually entered in their nominative form and in the infinitive if they are verbs.
Key words are important for successful searches. If you can’t find something, it’s very likely that you’ve got the wrong key words. The results that you are getting are often a good image of what words you’ve gotten wrong and how you’ll have to work with such a query.
Google Advanced Search
Google is without a doubt the most widely used internet search engine, and therefore it’s good to have information available on all the things that can be found by using it and how. We won’t be trying to make a complete list or exhaustive description of how you should search for what – we’ll focus on the areas or functions that are useful for searches and aren’t very commonly known.
The search bar offers many options for working with a search. The most common are quotation marks. If, for example, you type the phrase information science during a normal search, Google will find all documents in which these two words appear anywhere in them. But, if you put the phrase into quotation marks, you’re now searching only for the special phrase “information science”. Phrases or collocations are extremely important for many expressions and work with quotation marks can be very useful in this regard.
If you feel like there’s something appearing in the results that doesn’t belong there, there’s nothing easier than excluding this term. You can either approach this by having the specific word available, or you can try to filter the context. Imagine that you’re looking for sources on the topic of animation in the sense of specific work with education activity. Here it will be good to get rid of results that contain the term film, which you can do like this: animation –film. With context, for example, you can get rid of results with the words –actor, –pixar or –director. This can be a suitable solution in a situation where the term animation and film can often overlap, and you aren’t interested in animated film. That’s why the minus sign is the right symbol for you.
The operator OR is used more rarely, and serves to search at least one of the versions of the term (e.g. eggplant OR aubergine), or parentheses can be used for complex search phrases: artificial (intelligence OR thought) will give results for both artificial intelligence and artificial thought. Just remember – OR must be written in capital letters.
Google can search for a lot of interesting things that are otherwise relatively difficult to filter, such as:
- Searching for the price of a certain product: add a $ symbol before the number, e.g. mobile telephone $400. But be careful – the price is always listed in dollars, which might not be helpful for local conditions.
- If you want to search in a certain range of values, you can use two full stops: e.g. mobile telephone $300..$700 or Corel Draw 7..9.
- If you want to search for a certain hashtag, you can do it by using #: e.g. #ebook
- If you want to search on a specific website, then type site: before the name of the website or domain: e.g. site:idnes.cz
- If the website is no longer available (this is useful for short-term outages), cache: may come in handy: e.g. cache:myslenkove-mapy.cz
- If you need to search for documents only in a certain format, File Type will certainly come in handy. You can use it like this: File Type:pdf “Ernst Mach“
- Google can also work with various interesting added functions. For example, a query of ‘weather Brno’ will show not only websites, but also the real forecast and information on temperature and weather. Or, if you type in an equation like 3+5, the system will also make a calculator available in addition to the result. Graphs are also nice, like six(x).
Google also offers interesting information semantically. The fact that many people search with Google allows them to offer what users are typically looking for if they’re searching for the same thing as you. For example, this works nicely with famous people. Try searching for the phrase “Václav Havel” – you’ll get an interesting map of individuals who have something in common.
If you’re looking for a certain person, it’s useful that Google can display basic information on their birth, profession or even relevant books. Most of this information is taken from Wikipedia.
Google search’s own settings also offer useful functions. You can get there by clicking on the tools under the search bar. You can limit the search results by language (e.g. if you want to search for information only in Czech), or you can filter information according to time (e.g. if you’re only looking for news that’s fresh off the press).
If this filtration isn’t enough, you can move to Settings and select Advanced search there. Here you’ll find the possibility of using the various functions we described above via special words in the dialogue window, but you can also filter results according to license (which is useful e.g. for images) or according to explicit content. You can also focus on what part of the page the query should be carried out on, when the page was last updated, or in what part of the world it was published.
All of this will allow you to give a relatively good structure to your search results. It’s also worth using results filters for regular links, images, maps, videos, news reports, online shopping or buying books. For example, shopping is a relatively important item for Google now in its fight with Amazon, and should be the most innovative search field. It’s also interesting to link search results with Google Scholar, which is a search engine for scientific articles or patents.
Google also explicitly searches in some of your private data, which allows for strong personalization of search results but also reminds you of things like events that you’ve placed in your calendar, etc. These functions can of course be turned off, which can be motivated by privacy protection. On the other hand, if you don’t mind such interference into your privacy, you’ll probably get more relevant results this way.