Sunday, February 1, 2009

How to perform an effective Internet search

Skill-Level: Beginner/Intermediate

Overview: (if you don't have much time, read this)

Search Tips:
Be informed: Research (briefly) your search topic before you start to develop key words and a basic understanding.

Use quotation marks:
"cheese and grits" will return different results than cheese and grits. Most search engines throw out common words like the, and, if, in, us, etc.

Add key-words for ambiguous searches:
Search for "best buy" store instead of best buy. Store helps a search engine know what type of results you are looking for.

Detail: (more explanation and reasoning here)

I can't really profess to be an expert on how to locate things on the internet, but I've been doing it for a while and feel I am generally successful. While at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA), I was given a seminar on effective search techniques. The following are mostly things I've learned on my own added to some other things I've been taught in the past.

The most important thing is to know what you are looking for, and it helps to be somewhat informed before you start. Some things are easy to search for. For instance, molecular pretty straight forward. Go to Google and type in molecular biology and the results should pretty relevant. Searching gets a little more complex when you want to find something that has multiple associations. For instance...I like the band Discover America. One thing that helps with searches is using quotation marks around a set of terms to specify that you want to find those terms located by one another. "Discover America" will return more relevant results than Discover America. With bands, often having names consisting of generally used words in various combinations (Any the band [the killers], common word named band [Narcissus], etc.), adding the term band to the search will often help a search engine specify that you are looking for a band. Seems obvious, but more obscure bands will benefit from such practical searching.

In turn, anything with a more distinct name such as brand names with irregular spelling (The Beatles, Google) or non-common words (Lenovo, iPod) is less difficult to locate on the internet and requres less specification. I once designed a website for the domain After a basic submission to Yahoo and Google, it showed up as number 1 in the search results when PostNBeam was searched for...but much lower on the list (under some large Post And Beam companies) when Post and Beam was searched for. To find it using more standard terms, something like Post and Beam Asheville or Post and Beam "Golden Valley" had to be used. Locations help for local businesses.

The last bit of advice is a little more subjective, hence more difficult to describe. Sometimes I search for free software to find more quality programs to the list of free software shown on this website. Free Software, in general, translates to "free for personal, non commercial, use." This is fine for most people and great for this bit of search advice. Another term is often associated, but not exactly synonymous with, free software...this is open source. In short, open source software is software which offers its 'source code,' something which is guarded carefully by many software providers (*cough* microsoft, apple). This is convenient because, given you know the language the software is coded in, you can download the source code and modify the software to better suite your (and potentially other people's) needs. That said, I often search for something like free open source antivirus or something like that. While open source doesn't necessarily mean free, the vast majority of open source software is free.

I know the last paragraph was supposed to be the "last" part, but I decided to include a little something else. This was hinted at in previous paragraphs, but not explicitly stated. I can't get enough information, usually. I'll often do a skimming of an encyclopedia article (or something general like that) before doing any further research. This helps me identify relevant vocabulary and make note of any keywords I may need to use when searching if standard means fail(provide excessive or non relevant results).

Thanks for reading. I hope this was beneficial to anyone who took the time to read it.

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