Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tips for Effective Online Research

In university, I learned some very helpful tips to find optimal results in a search engine in a course I took on research skills. I understand the frustration of not finding what you're looking for or having to search through irrelevant results. It's bound to happen because search engines can't read your mind. They'll look up whatever you type, but the results may not always be what you want.

For Particular Phrases

Don't you hate it when you search for a phrase or a first and last name of a person, only to come up with results that show the phrase or name broken up?


Instead of finding the keyword sequence you want: "Terrence May is at it again," you get search results like this: "May 25 - Sylvia meets Terrence")

There is an easy way to avoid this. Put quotation marks around the phrase you want to search for: "Terrence May"

This is an important tip for phrases that search engines will easily confuse, like the month May for the last name May and also for phrases that a search engine will have difficulty picking up for whatever reason. But it's also a good tip for any search as you won't have to sift through any broken up phrases as you skim your results.

For Multiple Phrases or Words

If you type multiple phrases in one search, you will find that the words in each phrase often will not appear in the order you want them to. Words may show up in topics you were not searching for.

You want to find search results on carpet bags and parakeets but get results on how to clean parakeet urine out of a carpet.

Solution? Separate your search terms with brackets.

Example: (carpet bags) (parakeets)

Type AND to break up phrases if you want the search engine to show results for the phrase as it appears and to show the results of all the phrases or words you search. This is especially important for search results that would otherwise not necessarily include everything that you type into the search field. Remember to separate the search terms with brackets.

For example: (popcorn) AND (hamster dance)

Type OR when you are typing multiple search terms in one search to find what you are looking for. This is a good tip for finding results on the same topic or meaning under different synonyms, abbreviations or acronyms to find results. Use the brackets!

 Example: (canine) OR (dog)

I hope these tips will help you as much as they've helped me. There are millions and millions -- well, probably even more websites.  Why not make your searching more efficient? It will probably save you from having to search through page after page of results and sifting through irrelevant stuff to find what you're looking for. Happy searching!


  1. This is excellent advice. I learned it as a mature student at Uni.

    I'm getting fed up with Google deciding that it knows better than me what I'm searching for. You can put a perfectly good Boolean search in and it says: "I've looked for this instead. Did you really want me to look for what you typed?" Well, yes. That's why I typed it!

  2. Cool tips, and I liked the examples! I just googled "Ashley Ashbee" and found out all kindsa stuff! For one thing, I just found out she is on Facebook, and I don't even know what Facebook is, but I 'requested that she be my friend'. I hope she will. She seems pretty smart...and cute too!

  3. MorningAJ-Thank you! I sometimes like that Google feature because it shows me I've misspelled something!

    Mythopolis - Thank you! Hmm. My Facebook profile is private. Must be another Ashley Ashbee!

  4. I suppose that could be. Some other Ashley Ashbee. Here in Nashville there are 8 people in the phone book with the same name as me. I had several calls in the Spring asking me if I was making eggs. (!?) Turns out another guy with my name is some kind of Ukranian egg designer!