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Activity: smart searching strategies

Google Search Help

The Basic Search Help article covers all the most common issues, but sometimes you need a little bit more power. This document will highlight the more advanced features of Google Web Search. Have in mind though that even very advanced searchers, such as the members of the search group at Google, use these features less than 5% of the time. Basic simple search is often enough. As always, we use square brackets [ ] to denote queries, so[ to be or not to be ] is an example of a query; [ to be ] or [ not to be ] are two examples of queries.
  • Phrase search ("")
    By putting double quotes around a set of words, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change. Google already uses the order and the fact that the words are together as a very strong signal and will stray from it only for a good reason, so quotes are usually unnecessary. By insisting on phrase search you might be missing good results accidentally. For example, a search for[ "Alexander Bell" ] (with quotes) will miss the pages that refer to Alexander G. Bell.
  • Search within a specific website (site:)
    Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, the query[ iraq ] will return pages about Iraq but only from The simpler queries[ iraq ] or [ iraq New York Times ] will usually be just as good, though they might return results from other sites that mention the New York Times. You can also specify a whole class of sites, for example [ iraq ] will return results only from a .gov domain and [ iraq ] will return results only from Iraqi sites.
    Link to website with country domains:
  • Words you want to exclude (-)
    Attaching a minus sign immediately before a word indicates that you do not want pages that contain this word to appear in your results. The minus sign should appear immediately before the word and should be preceded with a space. For example, in the query [ anti-virus software ], the minus sign is used as a hypen and will not be interpreted as an exclusion symbol; whereas the query [ anti-virus -software ] will search for the words 'anti-virus' but exclude references to software. You can exclude as many words as you want by using the -sign in front of all of them, for example [ jaguar -cars -football -os ].
  • Fill in the blanks (*)
    The *, or wildcard, is a little-known feature that can be very powerful. If you include * within a query, it tells Google to try to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) and then find the best matches. For example, the search [ Google * ] will give you results about many of Google's products (go to next page and next page -- we have many products). The query [ Obama voted * on the * bill ] will give you stories about different votes on different bills. Note that the * operator works only on whole words, not parts of words.
  • Search exactly as is (+)
    Google employs synonyms automatically, so that it finds pages that mention, for example, childcare for the query [ child care ] (with a space), or California history for the query [ ca history ]. But sometimes Google helps out a little too much and gives you a synonym when you don't really want it. By attaching a +immediately before a word (remember, don't add a space after the +), you are telling Google to match that word precisely as you typed it. Putting double quotes around the word will do the same thing.
  • The OR operator
    Google's default behavior is to consider all the words in a search. If you want to specifically allow either one of several words, you can use the OR operator. For example, [ San Francisco Giants 2004 OR 2005 ] will give you results about either one of these years, whereas [ San Francisco Giants 2004 2005 ] (without the OR) will show pages that include both years on the same page. The symbol | can be substituted for OR. (The AND operator, by the way, is the default, so it is not needed.)

Search is rarely absolute. Search engines use a variety of techniques to imitate how people think and to approximate their behavior. As a result, most rules have exceptions. For example, the query [ for better or for worse ] will not be interpreted by Google as an OR query, but as a phrase that matches a (very popular) comic strip. Google will show calculator results for the query [ 34 * 87 ] rather than use the 'Fill in the blanks' operator. Both cases follow the obvious intent of the query. Here is a list of exceptions to some of the rules and guidelines that were mentioned in the Basic Search Help

Slideshare Presentation on Smart Searching:

Example to try
  • Tiananmen Square site:cn vs Tiananmen Square site:us
  • Other search ideas from participants.......


A New Kind of Literacy

1. Web Validity and who can you trust!

The juniors in Bill Stroud's class are riveted by a documentary called ‘Loose Change’ unspooling on a small TV screen in urban Astoria, N.Y.

The film uses 9/11 footage and interviews with building engineers and Twin Towers survivors to make an oddly compelling case that interior explosions unrelated to the impact of the airplanes brought down the World Trade Center on that fateful day. Afterward, the students--an ethnic mix of New Yorkers with their own 9/11 memories--dive into a discussion about the elusive nature of truth. Raya Harris finds the video more convincing than the official version of the facts. Marisa Reichel objects. "Because of a movie, you are going to change your beliefs?" she demands. "Just because people heard explosions doesn't mean there were explosions. You can say you feel the room spinning, but it isn't." This kind of discussion about what we know and how we know it is typical of a theory of knowledge class, a required element for an international-baccalaureate diploma. Stroud has posed this question to his class on the blackboard:
"If truth is difficult to prove in history, does it follow that all versions are equally acceptable?"

Throughout the year, the class will examine news reports, websites, propaganda, history books, blogs, even pop songs. The goal is to teach kids to be discerning consumers of information and to research, formulate and defend their own views, says Stroud, who is founder and principal of the four-year-old public school, which is located in a repurposed handbag factory.

Classes like this, which teach key aspects of information literacy, remain rare in public education, but more and more universities and employers say they are needed as the world grows ever more deluged with information of variable quality. "We kind of assumed this generation was so comfortable with technology that they know how to use it for research and deeper thinking," says Egan (Educational Testing Service). "But if they're not taught these skills, they don't necessarily pick them up.”

2. Visit the websites below:

Alternate list

3. Alan November's site dedicated to - Teaching Zach to Think

4. Finding content removed from web sites at ****

5. Discuss: How do/or will you teach your students to be discerning consumers of the information?

Need More ideas?

Social Studies Lesson Plan Archive at the New York Times

How Do you archive Digital information?

Internet Safety Resources

and information from the isafe organization.

Overview of 21st Century Skills | Online Video & 21st Century Skills | Information & Media Literacy
Communication & Collaboration Skills | Critical Thinking & Problem Solving | Creativity & Intellectual Curiosity | Closing