Lecture Notes on Search Tools

Keyword Searches

Using one keyword

If you were to type in a word such as population in the Search Box in AltaVista and click on Search, it will find you about 2,500,000 web pages. Clearly, in order to end up with a manageable number of pages you need to be more specific in your search. There are a number of ways in which this can be done.

Using more than one keyword

Whenever possible, use nouns and objects as keywords

Avoid common words, e.g., green, unless they're part of a phrase "green tea"

Use at least three keywords in your query

Put most important terms first in your keyword list

For example, if you wanted to find information on the population of Thailand you could type in the two words Thailand and population, with a space between them. This would produce a list of about 1,000,000 web pages.

Use the plus (+) and minus (-) signs in front of words to force their inclusion and/or exclusion in searches.

If you put a + sign between the two words Thailand+population this will produce approximately 141 web pages. If you put population+Thailand you will get approximately 31 web pages.

Clearly the primary search is carried out on the first word in the search box. The linking of two words by a + sign restricts the search to those pages where the two words are found together. You can use as many words as you like in a search box but remember the order of primacy.

Type keywords and phrases in lower case to find both lower and upper case versions. Typing capital letters will usually return only an exact match.

Phrase Searching • Use quotation marks (" ") around phrases to ensure they are searched exactly as is, with the words side by side in the same order

Combine keywords, whenever possible, into phrases

Phrase searching allows us to say a certain set of words must be present, next to each other, in the stated order. For example: "sugar free" You must enclose the phrase in quotation marks. This can be a very powerful strategy, if you have a fairly unique phrase. But it can cause problems if you're searching for a very common phrase.

Combine phrases with keywords, using the double quotes and the plus (+) and/or minus (-) signs. EXAMPLE: +"lung cancer" +bronchitis -smoking (In this case, if you use a keyword with a +sign, you must put the +sign in front of the phrase as well. When searching for a phrase alone, the +sign is not necessary.)

Truncation and Wildcards • to look for variations in spelling and word form.

These are synonyms. Truncating is usually done with the asterisk (*). If I enter pie* I will get pie, pies, piemaking. See how the * says you don't care how the word ends?

Boolean Searches

In Boolean searches, always enclose OR statements in parentheses. EXAMPLE: "financial aid" AND (college OR university)

Always use CAPS when typing Boolean operators in your search statements. Most engines require that the operators (AND, OR, AND NOT/NOT) be capitalized. The engines that don't will accept either CAPS or lower case, so you're on safe ground if you stick to CAPS. EXAMPLE: "eating disorder" AND (bulimia OR anorexia)

A list of Search Resources