Parents As Internet Partners
Search Strategies & Techniques

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So you're looking for something on the Internet. Where do you start? The Internet is vast and you can search forever or until you give up. So you need to learn some search strategies and techniques.

Search LogoThe First Step

Decide what you are searching for -- facts, dates, images, etc. When you enter your search, you need to try be as specific as possible.

For example, if you were to enter a search for "George Washington" in any search tool, you would probably get more responses that you could possibly imagine. Are you really interested in a picture of George Washington? Go to Google and submit a search for "george washington". You will get over 2 million results. Resubmit your search for "george washington picture" and you will have reduced your results tremendously to around half a million results. A quick look at the top results shows that you have found some links that will get you a picture of George Washington. (Remember to return to this page!)

Search LogoTips for Submitting a Search

Use lowercase letters when you type your search statement unless you want your search to be case sensitive or when you are searching for proper names.

Check your spelling. If you spell a word wrong, you may not get the results you expect from a search. Think of synonyms for your search term. For example, if you are searching for information about "cars", you may need to resubmit your search using "automobiles" or "autos."

Remember that some words have more than one meaning. If you search for "stars," are you looking for "movie stars" or "stars in the sky"? You should use keywords when you do search.

If you search for something specific and don't get enough responses, you may need to expand your search so it is not so specific. Example: Romance novels set in Miami vs. Romance novels set in Florida.

If one of your search terms is a phrase, be sure to place quotations around the phrase. The quotation marks placed around a group of words (e.g. "global warming") tell the search tool that the words must appear as a phrase on a web page in order for that page to be included in the Search Results.

Search engines usually process what is in parenthesis first, and the entire search statement is usually searched from left to right.

Many search tools allow you to use to stem or the main part of a word when you do a search so you can search variations of a word at the same time. You can use a truncation symbol such as an asterisk (*), a question mark (?), or the pound sign (#) after the root of a word to search for alternate word endings. For example, you use "video*" for videotapes, videocassettes, videodiscs, videography, videos, etc.

Search Logo Boolean Searches

Boolean search techniques are really quite simple to learn and can help you improve your searching of the Internet. Using concepts from Boolean algebra, Boolean searching helps to construct your search using logical operators and specified syntax:

Search Logo Submit Your Search

Select your search tool and submit your search. Most search tools have a input screen with a search box and a search button.

Click in the search box so that the blinking cursor | appears. Type in your search word or words and then click the search button. The search tool will search its database to find results to match your search.

Although searching is basically similar on most search tools, you may need learn how to submit a search on a particular search site. If necessary, read the Hints or Help file to perform more advanced searches.

Depending on your results, you may need to revise your search and resubmit it. Check the "Tips for Submitting a Search" (listed above) for ideas to improve your search. You may need to expand the search, to limit the search, or to change the direction of the search.

If your results are still unsatisfactory, you may want to resubmit your search to another search tool. Remember that every search tool works differently, and no search tool covers the entire Internet.

Search LogoUsing Library Databases

Many libraries subscribe to special databases that provide information that you will not ordinarily find on the Internet because of there is a cost involved in using the databases. This is what is called the "deep" or "invisible" Web. Go to the Henry Waldinger Memorial Library's "Links to Databases & Other Sites" to see what databases are available to you. In most instances, to enter a database, you will need to enter your library card barcode number or a password.

Some of the databases available to Henry Waldinger Memorial Library cardholders include: Dialog@Carl, Grove Dictionary of Art, Infotrac, Infotrac's Health Resource Center, Informe, MagillOnLiterature, New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Novelist, etc.

Search Logo Additional Information on Search Strategies & Techniques

Selection of a research topic is probably the most difficult, but most important, step for students who need to do a major research project for school. Weber State University's Stewart Library has prepared an excellent guide to "Selecting a Research Topic" (

CompletePlanet has a detailed tutorial, "Guide to Effective Searching of the Internet" ( if you are interested in more information about searching the Internet.
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Updated : March 7, 2002
© Henry Waldinger Memorial Library, 2002.