ON THE COMPUTER
The usually successful searcher finds searching
fun and challenging while usually unsuccessful people find searching
as much fun as getting a root canal – something necessary but not
something to look forward to. This
paper discusses the search attitude and techniques, and so forth, of
the successful searcher, and is based on many courses I’ve taken and
computer experience over 15 years in the workplace prior to 2004.
Successful searchers use different search engines
for different searches because some engines are for general usage;
others are for a specific use such as music lyrics.
Search Engine Watch (SEW) -- www.searchenginewatch.com
-- lists 100 or so major U. S. search engines.
(An appendix lists some of these and others I found in a
more general search. The
appendix shows an indication of the subject matter to be expected when
using the engine.)
The purpose of this discussion is not to anoint
any search engine as THE search engine to use.
SEW lists Google, Yahoo, and Ask (previously called Ask Jeeves;
the search engine owner has recently changed) as their award winning
engines as of April 2004 and contains descriptions of those engines in
a few paragraphs. It also describes many others to be strongly
considered. Similar lists for meta search engines – those using a
number of search engines – as of
March 2005 appear on the same site mention Dogpile, Vivisimo,
Kartoo, Mamma, and Surfwax as award winners and also describe others
to be strongly considered.
Search Vs. Specific Web Site
search the web when you already know a very good source for subject
matter materials. Searching
the web produces sites with valid information and others with
questionable or invalid information. Also, information from large data
producers or those with large data bases to be searched are usually
not covered by search engines,
and must be accessed directly and then by searching once on the
For example, say you’re looking for
information on caregivers support groups.
In the January meeting of this club, we had a presentation on http://www.seniornavigator.org.
Visit the site, and search on the site caregivers
along with your zip code.
Then, point to the
search now button and left click.
HOW TO SEARCH
BEFORE THE SEARCH
The successful searcher believes “I
will win”. It is
often a self-fulfilling prophesy. Why?
They think more into search terms and persevere more down the
list of returned hits even though initial hits tried are not
ALLOW ENOUGH TIME
good search takes longer than the 10 minutes prior to a Redskins game
or while the potatoes are cooking.
Good tea has to steep. Allow
a good extent of time, at least an hour or so, for the searching.
DON’T SEARCH FOR TOO LONG A TIME OR WHEN TIRED
(Spanish for “there’s always tomorrow”).
A tired person is less likely to be a successful searcher.
When you search, you have to think of a proper search term, and
you have to comb through the hits by double clicking links. It may be
exhilarating at 3 P. M., but will it be at 3 A. M.?
Also, will you be as fresh after counting for an hour or two as
you were 30 minutes into searching?
Each successful searcher has a different time
limit for searching, but each will get away from their search session
until later or tomorrow after their time limit for searching expires.
The fairly new science of ergonomics indicates that computers
take a toll on the body. (Your eyes stare, not blink. Your fingers
make the same motion with the mouse again and again.
ETC.) Therefore, the science encourages you to stretch, walk
around, do something else, and so forth.
Also, you’d be surprised how a fresh outlook will help.
A new idea for a search term can even pop up in your mind in
is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind”,
Marsten Bates, 1967, as quoted in Bare Bones, a document on searching
Also, there is an advertisement popular as I write this which
says the good news is my search produced a million results; the bad
news is my search produced a million results.
To get more relevant hits when using a search
engine, successful searchers use search terms rather than a single
word. Proper search terms
are developed only after some thought.
Whether you use paper and pencil or a computer screen and
keypad, good search terms are not developed in ten seconds.
A good search term will produce not only search terms relevant
to the search term used but also relevant to the answer you’re
To come up with a proper search term first decide
what answer you are searching for.
Then, ask yourself the five questions of searching: How? Who?
What? Where? Why? Although all questions may not be used for a search
term, these questions help the searcher to focus on the search.
The answers to those questions form the basis for good search
terms. Specific terms are
usually better than general ones, as general ones tend to produce too
many non-productive hits.
A search using SHOES
will produce sneakers, deck shoes, dress shoes, high heels, etc.
while RUNNING SHOES will
narrow the results of the
search to the type of shoes of interest. Be aware, however, a search
term such as COLDS may
have to be reversed. Thus, the better search term may be COLD
PREVENTION. See quotation marks below.
Successful searchers scan the hit list for
reliable sites which may produce what you’re looking for (rather
than read) as they scroll down the page.
They click on links that look promising (usually no more than
about a third of each page). They
search each web site visited briefly to determine if they struck gold
or gar’ bage. If
potentially gold, they investigate further going a little deeper on
the site but only for only another minute or two, reevaluating all the
time. If gar’ bage at first or even after a subsequent evaluation,
they return to the list of hits and continue scanning through page 2
and maybe 3 of the hit list. Then, they try a new search term.
Scanning rather than reading means you will be
able to go down the page and identify likely successful hits and
eliminate unsuccessful hits quicker. Spending only a few minutes on
each page reduces the chance that you spend a lot of time looking for
hard to find hits. Lastly,
most search engines produce the most likely hits first. Therefore,
as you page through the hits, you are less and less likely to be
A technique increasing the chance to be
successful when a site is clicked, is to use the search box on most
sites (or use CTRL+F), type the search term, and press the ENTER key.
A different technique is used when searching a PDF document, click on
the binoculars, type the search term and press the ENTER key.
For example, in the www.seniornavigator.org
caregivers example given on page 1 when the list comes up use CTRL +F,
type Alexandria and at the bottom of the screen point and click next,
This does not seem important but it is.
Bad spelling can change even the best search term to the worst
possible term. An
incorrectly spelled search term can only be successful if the owner of
the search engine made the same spelling error in entering the web
page in the database. Hence,
before a search term is used, make sure it is spelled correctly.
This is doubly necessary if you know spelling is a weakness of
This said, however, be aware that some words are
spelled differently in other places (color and colour), have two
approved spellings (high jack or hijack), or are frequently misspelled
A two word search will produce results in three
areas: the first word, the second word, and a combination of the first
and second words. This
usually produces a lot of false hits.
Some search engines automatically assume Teapot
dome (a political scandal during the Harding Administration),
or other two words is a term rather than two words.
I know Google and Dogpile do this, but others might.
If your search engine of choice does not
automatically read two words as a term, use quotation marks. In using
quotation marks you are limiting your search to a specific phrase in
the database. This will limit the search to those documents in which
the two words appear together. If this is too limiting, type the first
word in the search term in quotes, then type NEAR, and lastly type the
next word in quotes. NEAR should be in capitals. NEAR searches for the
first word and the last word only if separated by 10 or less words.
USE OF AND/OR/AND NOT
The use of certain connection words can help
narrow down a search.
“Hybrid Automobiles” AND Taxes;
or “Executive Chair”
AND NOT “Drafting”
will greatly reduce the number of responses in which you are not
interested while increasing the number of responses in which you are.
Conversely, “COAT” OR
appropriately do the reverse.
WORDS ALL SEARCH ENGINES IGNORE
All search engines ignore prepositions,
conjunctions, or common verbs. There are about 600 of these ignored
words, including: and, about,
the, of, a, in, as, if, not, why, never, before, is and it.
Remember card games which permit wildcards?
Most search engines permit the use of wildcards also. Thus, UPDATE*
produces potential hits with update,
updates, and updated.
The wildcard is * -- the asterisk, over the 8 on the keyboard
or * on the keypad. Brightplanet,
the web site referred to in a footnote on page 1, says that the use of
wild cards increase coverage by 50%.
INTERESTING BUT NOT ON POINT SIDE ISSUES
When anyone does a search they will find things
interesting but not on point. The
successful searcher focuses on the search they are doing, and ignores
side issues. If a side issue arises that looks interesting, jot it
down for future investigation and stay on issue.
AFTER AN UNSUCCESSFUL SEARCH
USE MORE THAN ONE SEARCH ENGINE
A serious searcher should use multiple search
services for important queries because different search services
contain different databases. A
search for GASB 45 (an
accounting rule on retiree health benefits) shows from 34 to 277,000
hits on 5 search engines. The
engine reporting 34 shows only the most relevant hits; while the
277,000 hits shows hits in the order of relevance.
Both are award winning engines.
That said, however, I doubt if many people use
multiple services and if they do, they do so infrequently.
If you are really serious about a search, though, you should
try more than one search engine.
TABLE OF SOME SEARCH ENGINES AND LINKS TO SEARCH
This table is based on my review of different
sources including websites http://infotoday.mondosearch.com,
http://www.westcairn.com and http://www.searchenginewatch.com;
and a book Randolph Hock, “Web Search Engines”(Cyber Age Books:
Medford, New Jersey, 2001). Naturally,
it is a sample of sites.