Secrets of Effective Net Searching


Secrets of Effective ‘Net Searching

Wearied by search engines? Learn the (sm)art of streamlined fishing

Search engines are notorious for emitting billowing waves of disinformation to drown the novice web fisher. I should know. I have died many times at the keyboard, only to be resuscitated by pain killers and diversions of fresh air and sleep.

It should be simple: type in some well chosen keywords, and presto! up comes the data you’re looking for. Instead, you net a tidal wave of information that threatens to capsize your monitor. Flotsam, jetsam, and a plethora of irrelevancies, including a picture of Aunt Beth’s dog (who happens to bear the name of your search term.) On top of this, the graphic image of the frozen canine freezes your screen for five minutes while it’s loading. It’s so intimidating and frustrating, you’re tempted to stay onshore instead.

But never retreat. Fortunately, there are ways to speed up your search, and it won’t take you longer than a few minutes to forget them.

First, before you start your search, make your terms as narrow and specific as possible. Remember the more general or broader the topic, the longer the list of referenced sites. Let’s say you’re looking for information on how to get a painless root canal (good luck!). Do you really care to hit the home page of someone showing their teeth while looking for dental information? And be sure to list your keywords in order of importance, otherwise the wave of information flooding your net will necessitate your wading through newsgroup postings of whether Dentyne is good for teeth and how to have your dentist arrested for sadistic drilling.

Next, be sure you make your search terms as complete as possible. For example, if you want a free version of a popular shareware program, word your query “free AND Supersoft Net Pirate” (the name of the program). By doing this, you will eliminate a lot of driftwood regarding your topic, including commercial versions and press releases on the product. You can be even more specific by adding the operator “not” to your query: i.e., “free AND Supersoft Net Pirate AND NOT Pirates of Penzance.”

You should also choose your search engine with care. ( See Choose the Best Engine for Your Purpose.) To narrow your search, start with a directory (i.e., Yahoo ) before trying a general search engine. That is what a directory is for—so you can stop and ask directions! Then use the directory topic search engine for your query. It’s also helpful to use an engine that provides good site summaries, because thorough summaries save you time (i.e., Excite.) With this feature, you eliminate jumping to irrelevant sites or surfing in waters of ephemeral information.

Remember, no matter what search engine you choose, it’s worth your time to master the “Advanced” or “Power” search function and use it before your query. This will net you nuggets and free you from frustration (let alone getting lost at sea.) For help, consult the Search Engine Reference Card and the Search Tools Chart.

Ways to refine searches include enclosing terms in quotation marks to find a phrase, using an asterisk (*) to find derivations of a word, and using a + (plus) or – (minus) symbol to require documents to contain or omit a specific word or phrase. You can be more specific by using the link:, title:, or url: command. Say you want to find a document entitled “War Women.” Simply type: “title:War Women” in the search box and run for cover! To learn which search engines support which features, check out the Search Engine Comparison Chart or Search Engine Features for Searchers.

Hey, don’t worry if you continue to drown for a while. Becoming a master ‘Net fisher takes time (and tooth grinding.) But structuring your search within these guidelines should help you become more effective. After all, information is only good if you can find it when you need it. But now where was that Web site about chronic tooth pain? I can’t find anything in my Bookmarks.