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Reflecting Poole

Searching With Savvy:
Time-Saving Shortcuts
And Strategies


This is the third and last article in this Searching with Savvy series. The first article (The Best Search Engines) looked at different search engines and profiled the best of the bunch for teachers and students to use. The second article (Web Search 101) offered tips for successfully finding what you need on the Web. Read on to learn a few more useful online search strategies, which, when you get the hang of them, will help you find what you're looking for and save you precious online time.


Use quotes to narrow your search.
Before you type a search string in the search box of your favorite search engine, take a few minutes to come up with a precise description of what you're looking for. Let's say that you're interested in information about animals of the ocean. If you type that phrase into Google's search box, for example, you'll get close to 19 million hits. Put quotation marks (" ") around the phrase -- "animals of the ocean" -- and you'll get just 531 hits. Why? Because the quotation marks direct the search engine to find only pages that contain that exact phrase. Without the quotes, the search engine will find every page containing the word animals and every page containing the word ocean. (Most search engines ignore such words as of and the.) So whenever you have more than one word in your search string, use quotes!


Use simple math (+ and -) to narrow your search.
Let's say you're looking for "videos of humpback whales in the North Atlantic." Type that exact phrase into Google's search box (sometimes a good way to start a search!) and you'll get 0 hits. A search for whales turns up 12.8 million hits. A search for "humpback whales" narrows it to 660,000 hits. Still too many to work with!

Now, try the plus (+) sign. The search term "humpback whales" +videos yields 41,100 hits. The plus (+) sign directs the search engine to find pages that have all the words or phrases found in the search string. Want still fewer hits? Type in "humpback whales" +videos +"North Atlantic"; the number of hits is reduced to just 746.

The minus (-) sign also comes in handy for narrowing a search. The search term "humpback whales" +videos +"North Atlantic" -Pacific returns 339 hits. The minus sign (-) directs the search engine to leave out any pages that have the designated word or phrase. As you might expect, lots of Web pages (more then 400) have videos of humpback whales in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. You're only interested in the humpback whales in the Atlantic Ocean. The minus sign limits your search to a more precise collection of pages.

Think of the plusses and minuses as a way to "build" a search string, adding greater specificity and narrowing the search as you proceed. That not only reduces the number of hits, it also helps ensure that the hits you do get provide the information you're looking for.


Use Quick Keys to construct your search string.
You often can save time by copying (Control-c) a word or phrase from an existing Web page or document and then pasting (Control-v) that word or document into the search box.


Use Control-f to quickly find what you're looking for on a Web page.
Let's say your search engine directs you to a Web page containing the information you're looking for, but the Web page is long and text heavy. Scrolling through it to find the information you need is hit or miss -- and time-consuming. Use Control-f to quickly find on the Web page the exact location of the word or phrase you're looking for. Try it! You'll wish you'd learned that tip -- along with the other tips and tricks above -- a long time ago.

Happy searching!

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

By Bernie Poole
Education World®
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