that you have used the Google search
engine to access information from the World Wide Web. Did you find
what you needed? Did you find too much? Did you find too little? Did you
retrieve a lot of "irrelevant hits?" If you have used Google for any
length of time, then you know that your results may vary from search to search
depending on what words you type and also how the words are
Google and other commercial search engines like Yahoo,
MSN.com, and Teoma,
allow users to search for the occurrence of words across billions of Web pages and online documents.
Web search engines are not very
"intelligent"; they don't understand the context of your search
or the subtle nuances of human language and thought. Remember, computers
don't think, they're literal -- they simply process commands -- therefore, the "intelligence"
must come from you. The following "Google
Tips" are designed to help you understand how Google works and in
turn search the Web more effectively.
Tip #1 - Use Google Help
Path: Google » About Google
and How to Search
In Google Help, you will find all sorts of nifty tricks
to improve your searching:
- "phrase searching" - Search for complete phrases by
enclosing them in quotation marks. Words enclosed in "double
quotes" will appear together in all results exactly as you have
entered them. Phrase searching is especially useful for specific topics or
concepts ("wildlife habitat management") and proper names ("north
By the way, you needn't worry about
capitalization in your search.
All letters are understood as lower case.
- word variations / "stemming" - Google will often
search for related word variations, including singular and plural
forms of the same word and different suffixes on the root of a word.
Google does this automatically, so keep this in mind when
constructing your search.
university ...may also find universities
economy ...may also find economic
diet ...may also find dietary
- plus sign ("+") searches - Google ignores common words that
appear frequently such as "of," "the,"
"is," "who," "where," and
"how." To include a word or character that Google typically
ignores, use a plus sign ("+") before it, such as:
godfather +ii (for the film "Godfather II"
or "Godfather, Part II")
+who tommy (for the rock opera "Tommy" as
performed "The Who")
- minus sign ("-") searches - Sometimes a word has more than one
meaning depending on the context. That's were the minus sign comes in.
The minus sign ("-") before a word can omit pages with an
undesired word from your results list. For example:
You are searching for north carolina banks for a management
class, but you keep retrieving hits about north carolina outer banks.
You could use the minus sign like this:
north carolina banks -outer
- tilde ("~") searches - The tilde ("~") before a
word looks for synonyms. For example:
highway safety ~elderly
...will also find highway safety and seniors, senior
citizens, and older drivers
Google Tip #2 - Use the Advanced Search
Savvy Google users go straight for the Advanced
Search to the right of the main search box.
Advanced Search allows you to control what Google retrieves and
refine your search in ways that the basic search box cannot. For example,
you can set the Advanced Search to:
- Find results with all the words or with an exact phrase
- Return pages written in a particular language
- Return results of a particular file format: Adobe Acrobat .pdf
Microsoft Word .doc, PowerPoint .ppt., Excel .xls,
- Return only recent pages updated in last three months, six
months, past year, etc.
and... (this is really helpful)
- return results from a particular site or domain, including
educational (.edu) and governmental (.gov) Websites. The Google Domain
Restrict feature allows you to limit your results to a specific site or
type of domain. (See "Inspect the URL" on the
Web Information tutorial for more on the importance of Web domains.)
You can restrict your search to only ".edu" sites at universities and
colleges or you can even limit your results to "duke.edu" and
only retrieve pages from Duke University. (This might come in handy
if you know about a particular research center or collection at
you can search for documents at "epa.gov," the
Environmental Protection Agency Website, or simply change it to ".gov."
for all U.S. governmental agencies.
Take a look at this example from the Google Advanced Search
Here, we searched for the phrases 1.
"acid rain" and "north carolina" (with all of the words, of
We wanted only 2.
Adobe Acrobat .pdf documents.
We wanted only 3.
recent stuff updated in the past 3 months.
We wanted only results originating from 4.
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, restricted to the site "epa.gov"
Google Tip #3 - Understand How Google Works
Although Google uses a simple search interface, there is some fairly complex
software at work behind the scenes. As we have discussed, a
search in Google looks for the occurrence of a word or words
billions of Web pages. Depending on your search you may retrieve hundreds of thousands of "hits."
This is where Google
PageRank™, a system for ranking web pages, comes in. The PageRank
system looks at the billions of pages and hyperlinks on the Web to see
who is pointing to whom with the idea that "important" Web pages
often point to other "important" Web pages. According to Google,
Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A,
for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or
links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote.
Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more
heavily and help to make other pages "important."
Search Technology at the company Website.
This is placing a lot of faith in the
computer program to return the best results for you, but many users
swear by it and Google has gotten very popular because of it. It's up to
you to be the judge. According to
the company, Google "does not sell placements within the results
themselves (i.e., no one can buy a higher PageRank)." Google does
sell space for "Sponsored Links" (ads) but these appear in
shaded boxes at the top and right side of your search results.
computer geeks: If you really want to
know more about Google's technology, you should read "The
Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine," the original paper written by
Google's founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page while they were still graduate students in Computer Science at Stanford University.
Google Tip #4 - Understand Your Results
Remember, any bozo with access to a Web server and some time on his hands can
create a Web page. (Take the author of this page, for example.) The Web presents an
exciting electronic commons in which to share documents and ideas around
the globe. But
with the good must sometimes come the bad. As you access Web pages and
retrieve information, constantly ask yourself, "Who wrote this,
for what purpose, and for what audience?" Websites of any repute
will clearly identify the author (or "corporate author" such as
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). In an academic setting, you are
expected to use authoritative and scholarly sources. If you have questions
about a site's content or motives, that's probably good enough reason to
just skip it and move on. Remember, you can always ask your instructor or
a librarian for their advice as well.
For more information about searching the Web critically,
Proceed to Evaluating
Web Information module.