google_searchIn 1996 two students changed the world. The world wide web was only a few years old when Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford University. They developed a system that analyzed and evaluated relationships between web pages, allowing search results based on relevance. That system was Google.

Google does many tasks, but it is primarily a search engine. Entering words and numbers into a search field instructs the search engine to look through documents for matching patterns. Those words and numbers are search terms. Specifying constraints and allowances for search terms controls the ranges and parts of documents that the search engine will include. This is what search operators do. Using search terms and search operators in combination lets you fine tune your searches which will increase your power to access and use the world’s information.

I hope that you actually try the examples given below at google.com so that you can see what these operations accomplish. The examples are indented and in quotes. To use an example enter the exact text, omitting the quotes, into a Google search field.

“osu rowing” means type the text osu rowing into the google.com search field.

This first example demonstrates how search terms and search operators interact. It also shows how you may build compound searches to narrow in on your topic. Google interprets spaces between search terms as AND. When you enter;

“osu rowing”

you are telling Google to look for “osu AND rowing” as a combination (go ahead and try it now). The results look good to me, especially since Google knows that my network domain is in Corvallis (such a smart search engine). Yet, I also get links for the other OSU, Ohio State. Rather than adding more search terms to try to increase relevance (e.g. “corvallis”) I will tell Google to ignore Ohio State by negating ohio. The sign for negation in Google is a hyphen “-“.

“osu rowing -ohio”

The Buckeyes are banished, but now the Oklahoma State Sooners show in the results. You know what to do – negate them also.

“osu rowing -ohio -oklahoma”

Out of curiosity I add a date range. The “..” operator between two numbers sets a range. “Tablet $100..$500" sets a price range for whatever the search term “tablet” pulls up; probably a mobile device. How would you search for information about the Beaver rowing team in the 1950’s?

“osu rowing -ohio -oklahoma 1950..1960"

The results for this search start with a paged titled “History of Oregon State Crew.” I did not see that page on any of the other searches for this topic. Crafting searches using search operators pays off.

Search operators can make a huge difference on results using the same search terms. The search operators “intext:”, “intitle:”, and “inurl:” focus a search respectively to the body of a document, the title of a document, and the web address of a document. Test for your self what difference this makes using the following searches;

“intext:justice”

“intitle:justice”

“inurl:justice”

Relying one only one search strategy will skew your results. Craft stronger strategies by varying and combining search terms and search operators.

Using “site:” you can restrict your search to a single web site or part of that site. Using “filetype:” you can specify which types of files to include in the search. Perform the following searches and attend to how the results vary.

“extremophiles site:npr.org”

“extremophiles site:npr.org 2012..2013"

“extremophiles site:oregonstate.edu”

“extremophile filetype:jpg”

“extremophile filetype:gif OR jpg OR png”

“extremophile filetype:jpg acid”

“extremophile filetype:pdf acid”

Try the following exercises as given then experiment with your own search terms and combinations. The purpose of these exercises is to produce variations in results that you may explain by the characteristics of the search operators and the search combinations. Doing this may be most interesting when done together with friends.

Start with “define:algorithm” to see how much you can learn about a word with one search. Try “define:” with some interesting words and phrases.

Use the search term “philosophy” with the following site operators:

“site:oregonstate.edu”

“site:ed.gov”

“site:wikipedia.org”

“site:nasa.gov”,

“site:nyt.com”

“site:amazon.com”

“site:powells.com”

“site:facebook.com”

“site:stanford.edu”

Do the same with your own search terms.

Examine the following search combinations. Try to predict what they results they will give. Enter them as given into a Google search field. How may you account for the different results based on the characteristics of the search operators?

“allintext:ebola epidemeology”

“allintitle:ebola epidemiology”

“allinurl:ebola epidemiology”

“site:who.int allintext:ebola epidemiology”

“site:sciencedaily.com ebola epidemiology”

“site:cdc.gov allintitle:ebola preparedness”

“site:who.int allintext:ebola preparedness”

If you have never used Google these ways before, and especially if you have, perhaps you may see the crafting of searches from search terms, search operators, and combinations as a language. This language has a vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and logic. It is true that no research that uses only one search engine can be considered rigorous. The purpose of this article is to help you to develop skills that may be applied to multiple search environments. The more fluent you are in search language, the more powerful your searches and research will become. In the words of Google’s mission statement, you will be better able “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (google.com/about).

How did these activities go for you? Please write to me at Dr.Tech@oregonstate.edu. I welcome your feedback on my column and hope that you send me your technology questions so I may address them in future articles.

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