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Marshall's Web Tool Blog

Training and Consulting in New Tools for Effective Web Use

This site is an archive of posts that I hope you will find useful. Please visit my new site at Marshallk.com.

10 Tips for Searching Effectively

Update: The post below has gotten lots and lots of traffic, which is awesome and tells me I should write more like it. Lots of traffic has come from a repost over at Tipmonkies, a related site I recomend my readers check out.

This might seem unexciting to some readers, but I believe others will find it useful. Here's some of my tips for constructing an effective web search, ranging from the most to least simple:
  1. Use quotes to denote a whole phrase you want to search for. Searching for (you know who you are) technology and community colleges will give you different results than searching for technology and "community colleges" or even "technology and community colleges" or "technology in community colleges." Specifically, putting whole phrases in quotes will give you far fewer results - hopefully better ones.

  2. Use the word "not" or the minus (-) sign to exclude searches that have certain words in them. Look at your search results, do they contain lots of articles from the same, irrelevant source? Get better results by adding - and the name of that source to the end of your query.

  3. When trying different search terms, think about the words some one would use to describe their work who is in the field you are researching. Different people use different language, depending on their perspective. Try multiple searches with different rhetoric, or focus on a certain perspective by using terms only its partisans would use.

  4. If you find that the web sites or pages you want are no longer available at their original location - don't lose hope! First, copy and paste the URL into Google and see if the page has been cached. Second, try pasting it into the wayback machine at Archive.org. Finally, you might try the cache function over at Fagan Finder's URL Info.

  5. Search in more places than just Google. Though it's often good enough if you are looking for something specific, gathering information about a general subject is best done with multiple search engines. Check out Jux2.com for a comparison between 3 big engines, Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves. See also Clusty.com for search across many other engines.

  6. Google has lots and lots of advanced features that you probably don't remember at any given time. Check out Soople and XtraGoogle for interfaces that will make those features easy to use.

  7. Don't forget specialty search engines like: A9.com to search inside Amazon.com books (then check them out from the library or buy them from Powell's), OneLook.com to search lots and lots of specialty dictionaries and Wikiwax for auto-complete search of Wikipedia, brainstorming style. Or Blinkx.com and Podscope for audio and video search. There are lots and lots of specialty search engines out there. If you'd like help finding some for a particular field, send me an email.

  8. Don't search only when you remember to! Search 24-7 by subscribing to the RSS feed for your search in engines that offer this essential service. Make sure you put your search terms in quotes as needed, select - or not to exclude the junk results you can see when first constructing your search. When I begin researching a subject for any length of time, the first thing I'll do is set up searches to RSS so that I don't miss any breaking news on the subject right up to the moment I'm done. I've written about search to RSS here.

  9. Don't go looking for things more than once, use a social bookmarking tool to save what you find the first time. Describe it with tags that will help you, or other people, find it quickly again later. I recommend Furl.net because it saves a cached copy of each page you bookmark and searches the full text of pages in addition to the tags.

  10. Tags can be searched across lots of different platforms over at TagCentral.net. Think of tags as subject headings, applied by users and usually only one word long. TagCentral makes using RSS for tag searching easy.

If search is a subject of interest, I've bookmarked articles and services that are search related in my Furl archive here. That link organizes them according to my rating system, with the best sites at the top.

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