How to Find It-Fast-On the Internet

By Chesanow, Neil | Medical Economics, October 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

How to Find It-Fast-On the Internet


Chesanow, Neil, Medical Economics


Last month, the first of a two-- part series introduced you to a rich variety of search engines. But what if they still leave you frustrated? Try these nifty tools and tricks.

According to a recent survey by Cyber Dialogue, an Internet research and reporting firm based in New York City, the typical Internet user will spend 1 million minutes-nearly two years of his life-online. And a study by the research company Berrier Associates found that half of Web users spend more than 70 percent of that time searching for information. Follow these suggestions if you'd like to spend less time hunting and more time enjoying what you've found online.

Use keywords effectively. A keyword is simply a word you type into the engine's search box; the search engine then scours the Web for pages that contain that word.

Many people use very general search terms. But search engines do a poor job of returning useful results when given so little to go on. So try being as specific as possible. If you seek a recipe for kung po chicken, for example, typing "chicken" or even "chicken recipes" into a search box will bring you many irrelevant sites, some of which may contain what you want-but you'll have to spend a lot of time ferreting it out. Type in "kung po chicken recipe," however, and the search engine itself will do the sorting-and you'll be in the kitchen in no time. (Don't forget the quotation marks, which tell the search engine to seek out the exact phrase you've typed rather than just sites that contain any of the words it includes.) Bear in mind, though, that not all search engines recognize quote marks, and those that do might ignore helpful Web pages that don't feature the exact wordage in your search phrase.

Check your spelling and punctuation. Spelling and punctuation count when you're doing a Web search. If you type Americain Airlines, the search engine doesn't know that you mean American Airlines, and you'll get hits only for the one word that's spelled correctly Likewise, if you want information on, say, former New York Sen. Al DAmato, you'll do much better if you include the apostrophe in your search query.

Read online advice. All search sites include help files (also called "tips" or "tricks") or lists of frequently asked questions (often abbreviated as "FAQs"). They're loaded with suggestions on how to improve the accuracy of your searches. Take the time to review them carefully.

Don't beat a dead horse. All search engines aren't alike. Individual sites cover different parts of the Internet, and they use different rules to analyze your query and determine how to respond. If you aren't getting anywhere after rewording a query several times, try another search tool. Savvy researchers settle on several favorites that they employ sequentially.

Use AND, OR, or NOT to connect multiple keywords. If you get lots of off-target results, your searches may be too broad. With many search engines, using the words AND, OR, or NOT with multiple keywords will improve accuracy. (AND, OR, and NOT may or may not need to be capitalized; check a site's help files.) For instance, we forgot that the song lyric, "Too much information driving me insane," was by the rock group the Police. Using the search engine Google, we typed the lyric-- surrounded by quote marks-into the search box and hit Enter. Yikes! We learned that plenty of things are driving people insane these days, but information didn't seem to be one of them. On a second try, we typed "Too much information driving me insane" AND song NOT "mental illness." Presto-the second match took us to a Police fan site.

Use plus and minus signs. Using plus and minus signs in front of keywords often accomplishes the same thing as using AND or NOT. Suppose you're in the market for discount stereo speakers, and you want to purchase them from a dealer, not bid for them at an online auction. The keywords "stereo speakers" will yield lots of very general and off-target results.

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