Effective Search Tips

Many people waste a lot of time "searching" on the Internet. Follow these simple steps to focus your search activities, and become much more efficient in doing a search.
(FYI,can can find most specific pieces of information in 30 seconds or less :-)

Russ Portrait

I recommend that you follow a structured technique such as:

  1. Spell it Out - Define the topic, and generate a list of search terms
  2. Strategize - Choose which online tool(s) and resources will work best on your search terms
  3. Search - Get online, execute, stay focused, use advanced search features
  4. Sift - Filter the results, Follow the leads
  5. Save - Take Notes, organize results, Bookmark/share.
1. Spell it Out

Spell-out the subject you are searching for. Write down any buzzwords, acronyms and abbreviations. Be sure the think about the "who" associated with your subject. Who would be likely to produce or publish the information you are seeking? Is there a well-known expert, university or association that specializes in your subject. The words you write down become the basis for keyword searches later on. For example; a search for cancer treatment information might involve the following terms; cancer, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, melanoma, oncology, NCI ("National Cancer Institute"), AMA ("American Medical Association"), etc.

2. Strategize - Choose your approach, which online resources, tools

Consciously decide what are the best online tools to use for each of your specific search terms. This requires that you understand are different strengths and weaknesses of the various online tools. For more information, see my overview of search tools.

3. Search - Get online, execute, stay focused, use advanced search features

Your search results depend greatly on how you phrase your keywords. First, be sure you asking the appropriate level of detail for the specific tool you are using (general words at Yahoo, obscure words and specific phrases at Alta-Vista). You can focus your results when you take the time to read the help file and construct a more specific query. Consider these tips for Alta-Vista:

 Search string

 Alta-Vista returns web pages which :

gigabit contain the word "gigabit"
gigabit testbed contain the word "gigabit" or "testbed" (either one or both)
gigabit +testbed must contain the word "testbed", may or may not contain the word "gigabit"
+gigabit +testbed must contain "gigabit" and "testbed" (very useful)
"gigabit testbed" must contain the phrase "gigabit testbed" (very useful)
+gigabit +testbed -atm must contain "gigabit" and "testbed", and not the word "atm"
gigabit host:.gov must contain the word "gigabit", and be hosted on a .gov website
link:.whitehouse.gov contain a hyperlink to the whitehouse web site

Other tips to consider when using a search engine:

4. Sift - Filter the results, Follow the leads

You may be presented with many search results and potential leads. Stop and read, before you click and waste time. Scroll up and down the entire page, and determine which are the most promising links based on the descriptions. Before you click on a link, hover over over the link, and read the link's URL in the browser's feedback area (at the bottom of the screen). You will be surprised how many dead-end links you will avoid just by reading their URLs first. Finally, If you see 2 or more interesting links to pursue, go ahead and explore all of them simultaneously by following these steps:

As you look through the search results, you should also be taking notes of new information that you will use in future iterations of your search.

5. Save

When you discover a great site, be sure to save this discovery, or you are doomed to repeat the search all over again. Methods of saving include:

Summary - Take the time to think about your searches, otherwise you can waste a lot of time .

Brought to you by Russ Haynal

Note for my Alumni:
Your referrals are always appreciated

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