Students have a vested interest in mastering their search skills. No, not job search or online dating search. Knowing the tricks to more effectively doing online searches for information has a direct impact on how much time you spend doing academic work and improving your grades.

Searching better online involves more than typing a few keywords into the Google search field and looking for the best results. If you do not know how to use better keywords and search term strategies, you will spend hours combing through mediocre results.

One study on student research skills revealed that three out of four students did not know how to do a “well-executed search” on the internet. Unless you are that one in four students, try this collection of tips to help you improve your search skills.

Why rely on Google Search? Sure, other search engines may help you in specialized circumstances. But Google owns the internet search space thanks to its advanced algorithms and aggressive domination of information scanning technologies. Google is an essential tool for learning.

“Google it” may have started out as a clever marketing phrase for the online search giant. Google Search has now become synonymous with finding the exact information students need without investing a lot of precious time.

Be a Name Dropper

To get better results, you must be specific with your search directions to Google. For instance, use this command pattern to find pages within websites that have precisely what you are looking for to avoid reading through dozens of off-topic hits on dozens of unrelated websites:

site:website name + search term

Note: Do not use the plus sign. Instead, put a space.

For example, if you were researching for details about harmful computer code discussed on this website, the search command would look like this: malware

You can adapt that command to include pages that have a particular writer’s name for the articles. For example, this command would provide a list of pages on that discussed malware that I wrote: malware Germain

Similarly, you can use a variation of this pattern to find a combination of your search term and a related name on websites that have those details. The command looks like this:

site:[website URL] + search phrase

Suppose you were working on a report about the open source software industry. Through a general search for open source you found a particular website that specialized in this topic along with other computer issues. You could easily isolate a list of open source articles at that website with this command: open source

Another variation of the name dropper technique lets you easily find information about an author using this command:

author:[name] + intitle:name

In this example, Google provides a list of web pages with that word in the title.

Another handy related search trick lets you find specific types of files on a topic you are researching instead of a name or word. The command is similar to the directions above. Instead of starting with the command word SITE, use the term FILETYPE. This comes in handy when searching for a type of photo or document format.

Here is how that search line looks:

filetype:format + term

Use the command to find information in a specific file format for the search word you want. For example, if I was looking for images to go with my research on malware in jpg file format, I would enter this search string:

filetype:jpg malware

I could modify that for other types of image formats such as tif, png, raw, etc. I could search for information in a word file or a PDF document this way:

filetype:docx malware OR filetype:pdf malware

Go for the Blanks

I often use wildcard searches to quickly gather a range of information hits with a fill-in-the-blanks approach. The key to doing an effective wildcard search is to use an asterisk in place of a search word.

For example, say I was researching reasons for using the Linux operating system and wanted to quickly find content discussing the reasons for its popularity or growth or non-adoption by a segment of potential users. I would formulate a statement about my target subject and end with an asterisk. Here is how it looks:

<em>Why Linux is *

Notice that this type of search statement is akin to asking Google an open ended question. Google will respond with a wide range of options for what the asterisk covers. Depending on the scope of your research, be aware that the hit list of answers will span a lengthy time period. Linux has been around for 25 years. Make sure to look at the dates of the articles that appear in the hit list to select the most current information.

Fact Finding

As a writer and an editor, I often spend considerable time verifying facts and figures. Doing a general search by name or category takes lots of wasted time reading through unrelated content. Google makes the search process not only easier, but much more precise.

If you are looking for a definitive fact, search for the answer directly. Do not think in terms of complete sentences. Rather, pose your search terms as a series of single words.

  • Break down your question into a series of essential words.
  • Write down your question as a full interrogative sentence in the search window.
  • Then eliminate with the delete or the backspace key all the filler words.

For example, say you want to find the height of Pike’s Peak. First, think through the question: What is the elevation of the mountain range called Pike’s Peak? Then reduce the question to its two essential parts: pikes peak elevation.

In essence, break down your search question into this pattern: who/what + defining term. It works every time.

More Google Search Trickery

Here is a short list of useful searching shortcuts. You can do a lot in Google Search that saves you time and effort by not having to grab other sources.

  • Google can calculate — enter a calculation into the search box. It can be simple or advanced. For instance: 110+ -200 or cos(pi)+4.
  • Google can translate without an app. Use this formula: translate [word] into [language].
  • Google can convert units of measure — use this word pattern: [number] [unit] into [unit] as in “1000kb into GB.”
  • Google can find word definitions, synonyms, antonyms and make pronunciations–just type the word and press the Enter key.

Google calculator
Final Tip

Google Search can be very valuable as a learning tool and for getting homework and research completed. Use Google Search to speed up your progress. You will get much better results.

Try this final search tip. It will keep you learning for hours. The time you spend now checking out these search tricks will reward you with newfound time to get other stuff done and will earn you much better results.

Enter these three words in the Google Search window: google search tricks and press the Enter key.

The lesson is to learn to Google efficiently. Enjoy!