Hints for Web Searches

Hints for Using Search Engines

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of the search engines currently available.  For additional search tips and search engine reviews, please visit The Search Engine Showdown.

Google

Google uses an automatic Boolean AND between terms.  This means 
  • Use double quotation marks (" ") around phrases to ensure they are searched exactly as is, with the words side by side in the same order. 
    • EXAMPLE: "South Carolina" (Do NOT put quotation marks around a single word.) This example would find pages about South Carolina, not pages that are only about the south or pages about carolina.
  • Put your most important keywords first in the string.
  • Type keywords and phrases in lower case to find both lower and upper case versions. Typing capital letters will usually return only an exact match. 
    • EXAMPLE: president retrieves both president and President
  • Use truncation and wildcards (e.g., *) to look for variations in spelling and word form.
    • EXAMPLE: librar* returns library, libraries, librarian, etc.
  • Combine phrases with keywords, using the double quotes and the plus (+) and/or minus (-) signs.
    • EXAMPLE: +"lung cancer" +bronchitis -smoking
      (In this case, if you use a keyword with a +sign, you must put the +sign in front of the phrase as well. When searching for a phrase alone, the +sign is not necessary.) This should return pages about lung cancer and bronchitis, but that have nothing to do with smoking.
  • When searching a document for your keyword(s), use the "find" command on that page.
  • Know the default settings your search engine uses (OR or AND). This will have an effect on how you configure your search statement because, if you don't use any signs (+, - " "), the engine will default to its own settings. The default settings can usually be found in the help section, the "about section", the search tips or sometimes in the advanced search section.
  • Know whether or not the search engine you are using maintains a stop word list. If it does, don't use known stop words in your search statement. Also, consider trying your search on another engine that does not recognize stop words.

Quick Tips for Boolean Searches 

  • In Boolean searches, always enclose OR statements in parentheses. AND operators should not be used inside parentheses.
    • EXAMPLE: (college OR university) AND "financial aid"
  • Always use CAPS when typing Boolean operators in your search statements. Most engines require that the operators (AND, OR, AND NOT/NOT) be capitalized. The engines that don't will accept either CAPS or lower case, so you're on safe ground if you stick to CAPS.
    • EXAMPLE: "eating disorder" AND (bulimia OR anorexia)
Updated 11/19/2007 - Content Author jopaleni