When searching for information on the Web, do you just fire up Google [www.google.com] and type in a word or two? You’re not alone.
Despite Google’s effectiveness as an Internet search tool, you probably could be a lot more productive in finding the information you’re after, using Google or any other search site. So says Paul Krupin, and he’s right.
Krupin, who has worked for the past 24 years as a researcher for the U.S. Department of Energy, wants to help others be better Web searchers. He has written a series of new books titled Magic Search Words [www.magicsearchwords.com], and he’s in the process of launching a pay Web site that automates Web searching using his ideas [www.searchwordpro.com].
The books deal with Web searching involving narrow topics, including jobs, scholarships, and health, and he’s currently writing another about how to most productively search for information at work. He shared with me his best ideas.
One simple trick is to add search words to your search string, words that will more finely hone your results. Use words that are relevant to the information you’re seeking and that will eliminate irrelevant pages.
If you’re searching for tips to help you improve office productivity by eliminating unnecessary paperwork, for instance, don’t just type: office productivity. Doing this in Google gives you nearly 2 million Web pages. Instead you could type: office productivity tips paperwork. This brings up about 8,000 pages.
You can further refine your results by enclosing multiword terms within quotation marks. With the above example, the search string would be: “office productivity” tips paperwork. This narrows the results to 200 pages. Since Google does an excellent job of placing the most relevant sites up front, all you typically would need to do is peruse the first screen or first few screens of these results.
Another simple trick is to use the minus sign to further eliminate irrelevant pages. You can place it in front of words related to subject matter you’re not interested in or in front of types of Web sites you’re not interested in.
You can eliminate most commercial Web sites, for instance, from your search results by adding “-.com” (without the quotation marks) to your search string. Instead of pages from advertising-laden dot-coms, you’ll turn up pages from .org, .edu, and .gov sites, which may provide more reliable information.
If you want to home in on sites strictly from, say, government agencies, you can add “.gov” (without the quotation marks) to your search string.
Another trick is to experiment with different words in your search string, adding some and eliminating others, or switching the positions of the same words, then perusing the results.
Since different search sites use different search technologies and bring back different results, you can also try typing in the same search string at other search sites, including such promising new search sites as Teoma [www.teoma.com] and Vivisimo [www.vivisimo.com].
If you’re looking for just the most current information, you can experiment with adding the current year to your search string.
Some information, from the so-called “invisible Web,” is hidden within databases at Web sites and is accessible only by using that site’s search tool. One way to find this information is to include the term “searchable online database” (with the quotation marks) in your Google search string, then use the site’s own search engine.
If you’re looking for information at an individual site but that site doesn’t have its own search tool, with Google, you can add to your search string “site:” (without the quotation marks) followed by the site’s URL (address). Make sure you don’t skip a space between site: and the site’s address.
Regardless of how you turn up information on the Web, exercise care in evaluating it, says Krupin. Try to determine the source of the information, and ask yourself if this source appears qualified and unbiased or is instead just trying to sell you something. Also, try to verify the information by finding at least one other reputable source that provides the same or similar information, particularly if the information diverges from your current understanding or involves a critical business, health, or family decision.
“The Web is now the library of humanity, similar to the ancient library of Alexandria, housing mankind’s cumulative knowledge,” waxes Krupin, a bit too optimistically. Much knowledge still resides elsewhere, in books and other publications, not yet online, and in heads, not yet published.
But a great deal of valuable information can be found on the Web, if you know how to look for it.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or reidgold.com.