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Reflecting Poole

Searching with Savvy:
Web Search 101


If you know what you’re doing, search engines can help you find whatever you need quickly and efficiently. Discover the secrets that savvy searchers know!

You can find almost anything you're looking for on the Web if you search long enough, but who has time for extended Web surfing? Good news! If you know how to "phrase" your Web search questions, you can find what you want in a fraction of the time you might otherwise spend stumbling around in the dark. Read on for some useful online searching tips.


Have a clear idea of what it is you're looking for.
Let's say, for example, that you need audio-visual material to accompany a 3rd grade lesson on the local history of your hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Don't just type in the first words that come to your mind. Spend some time thinking about what you want to find; brainstorm some possible search criteria; and then jot down some specific search terms related to those criteria. The point is, you'll have more success searching if you know exactly what you're looking for.


Use specific search criteria.
Most search engines have advanced search capabilities that allow you to more closely target your topic. As an example, let's take a look at today's premier search engine, Google.

When you go to Google's Web site, you'll see the following screen:

No doubt you've used search engine screens like this before, but have you really thought about what you're doing? Have you really used the options available to you? The more specific your search criteria is, the quicker you'll find what you're looking for.

Google's Advanced Search tool is designed to help you locate information quickly by guiding you through the process of selecting the criteria for your search. Look at Google's Advanced Search dialog box below:

Take a look at the various search options. As Google explains, with Advanced Search you can restrict your search to pages

  • that contain ALL the search terms you type in. (The more search terms, the narrower the search.)
  • that contain the exact phrase you type in. (The longer the phrase, the narrower the search.)
  • that contain at least one of the words you type in. (The more words, the more hits you'll get.)
  • that do NOT contain any of the words you type in. (The more words you exclude, the fewer hits you'll get.)
  • written in a certain language. (Narrow your search to pages written in any one of 35 languages.)
  • created in a certain file format. (Find (Acrobat).pdf files, or (Word).doc files, or (Excel).xls files.)
  • that have been updated within a certain period of time. (Limit your search to pages updated in the past month, three months, or year.)
  • within a certain domain or Web site. (Maybe you want just want government (.gov) or educational institution (.edu) Web sites )
  • that don't contain "adult" material. (Use Google to "filter" out objectionable Web sites.)

And now, back to Greensburg, Pennsylvania. If you type the search term "local history" into the exact phrase box of Google's Advanced Search tool, and then click the search button, you'll get more than 6.8 million hits -- the vast majority of which have nothing to do with your town's local history. You need to narrow the search by entering such key words as "Greensburg" and "Pennsylvania" into the with all of the words search box. You'll still get plenty of hits (about 13,500), but they'll all be related to the local history of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Because Google ranks Web sites by usage (the more "hits" a Web site gets, the higher it's placed in Google's ranking), you'll most likely find what you need in the first 10 to 20 search results.

If you need to further reduce the number of results (to dozens of Web sites instead of thousands), you can refine the search by telling Google to find only the Web sites of universities and colleges (.edu domain --114 hits), local, state, or federal government offices (.gov --14 hits), or to non-profit organizations such as museums and libraries --216 hits).

As you gain experience searching, you'll be able to quickly find what you're looking for without the Advanced Search tools -- provided you learn how to use quotes, the "+" and "-" signs, and a few other advanced search tools and tips. We'll take a closer look at those in the next article in this series.


Use a specialized search engine.
Education World's Advanced Search Engine, for example, is designed to find information specific to education, and therefore, is especially useful if you're looking for games, lesson plans, curriculum or professional development information, news, or other resources specifically related to teaching and learning. You can access that tool by clicking the Advanced Search button at the top of every Education World page. Check it out!

The image above illustrates an Internet search for nutrition resources. Note that you can choose to conduct the search just within Education World or on the entire Internet. You also can choose to search just on education sites (392 hits) or on all sites containing resources for educators.


Practice! Practice! Practice!
The more you do something, the more expert you'll become at it. There's no other way to learn. Ask Tiger Woods. He's the best golfer in the world because he's had good coaches and because he works hard at what he does. You can become an expert -- and winning -- searcher, if you know the tips and tricks, and then practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect in all endeavors.

About the Author
Bernie Poole, currently an associate professor of education and instructional technology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, has been a teacher since 1966. For the first 15 years of his career, he taught English, history, French, or English as a foreign language primarily to middle school children in England, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.

In 1980, Poole moved to the United States, and now is a naturalized citizen. Soon after his arrival in the U.S., Poole began studies in data processing at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, Pennsylvania. After completing that degree, he entered the master's degree program in information science at the University of Pittsburgh, which led to his 1983 appointment as an assistant professor of computer science in the Division of Natural Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and eventually to his current position in instructional technology.

Poole has published several books related to instructional technology. Two of the latest editions of those books are available free of charge online at He also has developed and maintains with Yvonne Singer the EdIndex, an extensive index of Web resources for teachers and students that can be accessed at ~poole/edmenu.html.

By Bernie Poole
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World