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Quick Tips

Selecting Search Terms

Quick Tip: Use words likely to appear on the pages you want. Avoid using a question as a query. For example, the query, [ where do I apply for a passport in New Zealand ], instructs Google to find pages containing all the terms. Such a query won't necessarily find pages answering your question. A better query might be [ passport apply New Zealand ].

Selecting Search Terms

Quick Tip: Use words likely to appear on the pages you want. Avoid using words that you might associate with your topic, but you wouldn't expect to find on the designated page(s). For example, queries that include "articles about," "discussion of," "documentation on," and "pages about" are likely to return fewer results since information on the web is rarely labeled with such terms.

Selecting Search Terms

Quick Tip: Be specific: Use more query terms to narrow your results. It's better to use a more precise, less ambiguous term than a common one to "flesh out the topic by including facets that interest you," notes Ned Fielden in his book Internet Research, Second Edition (McFarland & Company, 2001).

Selecting Search Terms

Quick Tip: You don't have to correct your spelling. There's a good chance that Google will recognize your mistakes and suggest an alternative more common spelling, usually faster than you can look up the term in an online dictionary.

Selecting Search Terms

Quick Tip: Be brief. For best results, use a few precise words. For example, a program on quitting smoking is more likely to include the terms "quit smoking program" than the words "program on quitting tobacco cigarette smoking addiction."

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google returns only pages that match all your search terms. A search for [ compact fold-up bicycle ] finds pages containing the words "compact" and "fold-up" and "bicycle." Because you don't need to include the word AND between your terms, this notation is called an implicit AND.

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google returns pages that match your search terms exactly. In his book Internet Research, Second Edition (McFarland & Company, 2001), Ned Fielden notes "Google simply matches strings of characters together and doesn't currently base inferences on uses of the language. Although this searching method has some drawbacks, it harnesses one of the fabulous powers of computers, [the ability] to sift through enormous heaps of data quickly and accurately."

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google returns pages that match variants of your search terms. The query [ child bicycle helmet ] finds pages that contain words that are similar to some or all of your search terms, e.g., "child," "children," or "children's," "bicycle" "bicycles," "bicycle's," "bicycling," or "bicyclists," and "helmet" or "helmets." Google calls this feature word variations or automatic stemming. Stemming is a technique to search on the stem or root of a word that can have multiple endings.

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google ignores some common words called "stop words," e.g., the, on, where, how, de, la, as well as certain single digits and single letters. Stop words tend to slow down your search without improving the results. Google will indicate if a stop word has been excluded on the results page below the search box.

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google favors results that have your search terms near each other. Google considers the proximity of your search terms within a page. So the query [ snake grass ] finds pages about a plant of that name, while [ snake in the grass ] tends to emphasize pages about sneaky people. Although Google ignores the words "in" and "the," (these are stop words), Google gives higher priority to pages in which "snake" and "grass" are separated by two words.

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google gives higher priority to pages that have the terms in the same order as in your query. Consequently, you should enter search terms in the order in which you would expect to find them on the pages you're seeking. A search for [ New York library ] gives priority to pages about New York's libraries. While the query [ new library of York ] gives priority to pages about the new libraries in York.

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Google is NOT case sensitive; it assumes all search terms are lowercase. Ignoring case distinctions increases the number of results Google finds. A search for [ Red Cross ] finds pages containing "Red Cross," "red cross," or "RED CROSS."

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: A term with an apostrophe (single quotes) doesn't match the term without an apostrophe. A query with the term "we're" returns different results from a query with the term "were."

we're ] matches "we're" but not "were"
were ] matches "were" but not "we're"

Interpreting Your Query

Quick Tip: Because some people spell hyphenated words with a hyphen and others with a space, Google searches for variations on any hyphenated terms.

When Google encounters a hyphen (-) in a query term, e.g., [ part-time ], it searches for:

  • the term with the hyphen, e.g., part-time
  • the term without the hyphen, e.g., parttime
  • the term with the hyphen replaced by a space, e.g., part time

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: A query with terms in quotes finds pages containing the exact phrase phrase, proper name, or set of words in a specific order. For example, [ "Larry Page" ] finds pages containing exactly the phrase "Larry Page." So this query would find pages mentioning Google's co-founder Larry Page, but not pages containing "Larry has a home page" or "Congressional page Larry Smith." The query [ Larry Page ] (without quotes) would find pages containing any of "Larry Page," "Larry has a home page," or "Congressional page Larry Smith."

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Google will search for common words (stop words) included in quotes, which it would otherwise ignore.

USE [ "how to change oil" ]
NOT [ how to change oil ]

Google Answers

Quick Tip: Having trouble creating a query to find the information you seek? Don't have time to research the topic yourself? Consider asking Google Answers, which, for a fee of your choosing, provides assistance from researchers with expertise in online searching.

If your query returns few results or none, there may be a link to Google Answers on the results page. Otherwise, visit answers.google.com.

Reluctant to use Google Answers? Think you can find the information you want if you search a bit longer? If you feel that way, you're not alone. Nevertheless, many people who have asked questions of Google Answers are now fans of the service. Not only does it save them time, but the answers they get are packed with useful information and links. It's a wonderful service that's well worth your checking out, whether you're a novice or an experienced searcher.

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Some teachers use quoted phrases to detect plagiarism. They copy a few unique and specific phrases into the Google search box, surround them with quotes, and see if any results are too similar to their student's supposedly original work. Find ways to detect and prevent plagiarism.

[ "ways to detect plagiarism" ]
[ "how to detect plagiarism" ]

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: To force Google to search for a particular term, put a + sign in front of the word in the query. Note that you should not put a space between the + and the word, i.e. [ +The Beatles ], not [ + The Beatles ]. The + operator is typically used in front of stop words that Google would otherwise ignore or when you want Google to return only those pages that match your search terms exactly. However, the + operator can be used on any term.

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Disable automatic stemming, i.e., searching for pages that match variants of your search term(s), by preceding each term that you want to be matched exactly with the + operator. For example, if you want to see only pages mentioning one favorite book rather than lists of favorite books, precede the word "book" by a + sign, [ favorite +book ].

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: To find pages without a particular term, put a - sign in front of the word in the query. The - sign indicates that you want to subtract or exclude pages that contain a specific term. Do not put a space between the - and the word, i.e. [ dolphins -football ] not [ dolphins  - football ].

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Find synonyms by preceding the term with a ~, which is known as the tilde or synonym operator. The tilde (~) operator takes the word immediately following it and searches both for that specific word and for the word's synonyms. It also searches for the term with alternative endings. The tilde operator works best when applied to general terms and terms with many synonyms. As with the + and - operators, put the ~ (tilde) next to the word, with no spaces between the ~ and its associated word, i.e., [ ~lightweight laptop ] not [ ~ lightweight laptop ].

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Specify synonyms or alternative forms with an uppercase OR or | (vertical bar). The OR operator, which you may abbreviate with | (vertical bar), applies to the search terms immediately adjacent to it. Find pages that include either "Tahiti" or "Hawaii" or both terms, but not pages that contain neither "Tahiti" nor "Hawaii." by using [Tahiti OR Hawaii ] or [Tahiti | Hawaii ].

Note: If you write OR with a lowercase "o" or a lowercase "r," Google interprets the word as a search term instead of an operator.

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Specify that results contain numbers in a range by specifying two numbers, separated by two periods, with no spaces. For example, specify that you are searching for a recumbant bicycle in the price range $250 to $1000 by using [ recumbant bicycle $250..$1000 ].

Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

Quick Tip: Use an *, known as a wildcard, to match any word in a phrase (enclosed in quotes). Each * represents just one word. Google treats the * as a placeholder for a word. For example, [ "Google * my life" ] tells Google to find pages containing a phrase that starts with "Google" followed by a word, followed by "my life." Phrases that fit the bill include: "Google changed my life," "Google runs my life," and "Google is my life."

Google's Advanced Search Form

Quick Tip: When you don't find what you're seeking, consider specifying more precisely what you want by using Google's Advanced Search feature. Don't be frightened by the name "Advanced Search"; it's easy to use, and it allows you to select or exclude pages with more precision than Google's standard search box. Click on the Advanced Search link, which is located to the right of Google's search box or visit www.google.com/advanced_search and fill in the form. The Advanced Search form is automatically filled in with appropriate information from your previous query — if you entered a query just before you clicked on the Advanced Search link. Filling in the top portion of the Advanced Search form is an easy way to write restricted queries without having to use the " ," +, -, OR notation discussed in the section Crafting Your Query.

Dictionary Definitions

Quick Tip: Want a definition for your search terms? It's just a click away. Google looks for dictionary definitions for your search terms. If it finds any definitions, it shows those words as underlined links or includes a definition link in the statistics bar section of the results page (located below the search box showing your query). Click on the underlined terms or the definition link in the statistics bar to link to their dictionary definition, which also may include information on pronunciation, part of speech, etymology, and usage.

Cached Pages

Quick Tip: Practically every search result includes a Cached link. Clicking on that link takes you to the Google cached version of that web page, instead of the current version of the page. This is useful if the original page is unavailable because of:

  • Internet congestion
  • A down, overloaded, or just slow website
  • The owner's recently removing the page from the Web

Evaluating What You Find

Quick Tip: Many people publish pages to get you to buy something or accept a point of view. Google makes no effort to discover or eliminate unreliable and erroneous material. It's up to you to cultivate the habit of healthy skepticism. However, Google's web-page-ranking system, PageRank, tends to give priority to better respected and trusted information. Well-respected sites link to other well-respected sites. This linking boosts the PageRank of high-quality sites. Consequently, more accurate pages are typically listed before sites that include unreliable and erroneous material. Nevertheless, evaluate carefully whatever you find on the web since anyone can create pages, exchange ideas, copy, falsify, or omit information intentionally or accidentally.

Making Google Easier with Google Tools

Quick Tip: You can use Google even if the www.google.com page isn't currently in your browser provided you're currently connected to the Internet by using one or more of the following tools and features.


Quick Tip: Google provides shortcuts for finding commonly sought utilities and information, which you may have previously found offline or on specialized sites, including phone numbers and addresses, street maps, stock quotes, definitions, travel conditions, area code maps, package tracking information, flight tracking information, vehicle information, patent search, UPC codes, FCC equipment IDs, and a calculator.

Google's Calculator

Quick Tip: Want to add up a list of numbers, convert from miles to kilometers, or evaluate some other mathematical expression? Instead of using a piece of paper, your calculator, or a computer math software program, you can now solve mathematical problems with Google's built-in calculator function. Simply enter the expression you'd like evaluated in Google's web search box and hit the ENTER key or click the "Google Search" button.

Google's Phonebook

Quick Tip: Use Google if you want to look up a phonebook listing for someone who lives in the United States. Just enter a person's name and a city, state, or zip code in the standard web search box. Then hit the ENTER key or click the "Google Search" button.

When you want a US business white-page phonebook listing, enter a business name and location or phone number.

Stock Quotes

Quick Tip: Want info on a publicly traded stock or mutual fund? Enter one or more NYSE, NASDAQ, AMEX, or mutual fund ticker symbols and Google will return a link to stock and mutual fund information, e.g., [ yhoo ]

Definitions, aka Google Glossary

Quick Tip: When you include "define," "what is," or "what are" in your query in front of a word, phrase, or acronym, Google displays one Glossary definition above your search results. Google Glossary provides definitions for words, phrases, and acronyms that Google finds on web pages. The Glossary is good for finding definitions for terms that aren't in some dictionaries, e.g., slang words, technical terms, ethnic words and other specialized terms.

Travel Conditions

Quick Tip: Google provides a shortcut for learning about delays and weather conditions at an airport. Just enter a US airport's three-letter code followed by the word "airport" into Google's search box, e.g., [ hnl airport ].

Cached Pages

Quick Tip: If Google returns a link to a page that appears to have little to do with your query, or if you can't find the information you're seeking on the current version of the page, click on the Cached link to view Google's cached version of the page with the query terms highlighted.

This page was last modified on Monday January 02, 2006.

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