1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10

Searching for the Grail?

These lessons may not be used for professional development
without purchase of a site license.

2. Learn the syntax and logic

The more powerful the search engine, the more important the syntax - the rules governing how you enter your search query. Because few people stop to read and learn these rules, they end up with crude and clumsy searches.

For example, some search engines care about CAPITAL LETTERS and punctuation. Others ignore them both. If you search for Washington, D.C. with the following query, you may achieve no "hits" with one search engine and thousands with another . . .


Another example . . . when you want an exact phrase such as "old growth forest," some search engines require quotation marks around the words which belong together, while others do not care.

Search logic is also important. For example . . . some search engines support Boolean searches, the use of AND, OR and NOT to target just certain pages.

"San Francisco" AND "average annual rainfall" gives you all the Web pages that contain both the city and the rainfall.

You can usually find the syntax and the instructions for logical searching for any search engine in the Help pages. If not, you may want to look for an engine that explains its rules.

Workshop Activity:

Note: During most of these exercises we will all use Google as our search engine so we share common experiences.

Go to the Help section for Google and note the specific rules outlining how to enter your search when using the Advanced Search. Spend 5-10 minutes reading through these rules and using your research question as the basis for exploring.


3. Learn the features

As Info-Glut has grown to be more and more of a problem, the search engines have competed fiercely to offer the best tools to support you in your sorting and sifting, and yet many folks ignore these powerful extra tools and features.

Google's Advanced Search allows you to request particular domains, particular dates, particular levels of a Web site, particular countries of origin, particular types of files and as many as 100 results at a time. These can be very helpful search features.

If you want to eliminate most commercial sites, you might limit your search to .gov or .org, for example.

The Power Searcher explores all of the features of a chosen search engine in advance of real searching in order to apply these extra tools with skill when they are needed.

 Workshop Activity:

Go to Google's Advanced Search and try out each of the special features mentioned above, using your research question as the basis for exploring.

Take the time to write down in your learning log those features which you see as especially powerful and helpful.

Next search strategies

 Credits: Icons are from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings, photographs and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.

© 2000-2006, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.

Copyright Policy: These pages may not be downloaded, reproduced or redistributed in any manner, whether by hardcopy, print, electronic means or any other means.