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Googling Better

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Mary Ellen Bates, Bates Information Services, Inc.

 

Logo for Bates Information Services, Inc.22 February 2005. While I often remind people in my workshops that Google is not necessarily the most appropriate search tool, most of us do use Google in the course of our research day.

The following are a few of the techniques and tools I use to make my Google searching more effective or more productive.

Synonym Searching

Google has a limit of 10 words per search [since expanded to 32], which can make it difficult to include all the possible variations on a word. For example, a search for reports on childhood obesity should probably also include the words child, children, kid, kids, youth and family as well as childhood, and the words obese, overweight and fat as well as obesity. Oops! That adds up to 11 possible search terms, and doesn't give you any leeway to include filetype: limitations or other words to narrow the search down to reports. One way to circumvent this limitation is to try Google's synonym search. Add a tilde (~) at the beginning of the words child and obese (~child ~obese), and Google retrieves web sites that use any of those synonyms.

 
 

A slider bar lets you specify how much you want the search results sorted by those interests you specified.

 
 

Note that this tool works best for common words, and some of the synonyms may be broader than you wish. I needed to search for web sites of elementary school bands, music departments and choirs. I tried a search for ~music, but saw that I was also getting web sites with the words rock, MP3, radio, audio, song, sound, and records -- not really what I had in mind.

Google Personalized

Personalized Google is still in beta, but it's an interesting tool. Once you go to the Google Labs page and select Personalized, you will be sent to a new search page, that includes a link to [Create Profile]. You can specify the type of searching you typically do, ranging from biotech and pharmaceuticals to dentistry to classical music. Click [Save Preferences], and then type your search terms in the Google Personalized search box.

At the search results screen, you will now see something new -- a slider bar that lets you specify how much you want the search results sorted by those interests you specified. The default is minimal personalization; move the slider bar toward maximum, and you will see the search results change on the fly, as Google re-ranks the results based on your personal interests.

Keep in mind that this personalization is only available through the Personalized Google page. If you go to the main Google search page, the personalization option is not available.

Google Shortcuts

As with other search engines, Google has some built-in "answer" features that can sometimes come in handy.

If you type the word "define:" and a word (define:card for example), instead of the usual search results, you will get definitions of that word from a wide range of glossaries, dictionaries and lexicons.

Type a US company's name or stock symbol in the search box, and the first item in the search results page will be a link to current stock quotes for that company, provided by Yahoo Finance.

Type a US area code in the search box, and the first search result will link to a map showing the general coverage area of that area code. I find this particularly useful now that there are over 200 area codes.

See www.google.com/help/features.html for a list of Google's shortcuts.

Specialized Searches

In addition to the well-known Google search tabs for searching the web, news and images, there are several specialized search tools for commonly-search subjects, including UncleSam for searching federal government information; University Search for searching within the sites of major colleges or universities; and even Google Microsoft, for searching Microsoft-related sites.

2005 Mary Ellen Bates all rights reserved.

 
 


Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Boulder, CO.

 
 

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Created: 22 February 2005
Revised: 18 October 2007 (no text revisions)
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/archive/googling_better.html

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