Search Smarter…not Longer : The Computer as a Tool for Good

When I was kid, we had one set of Encyclopedia's (in fact I think someone in the family STILL has them) and when you needed to research an item, the Encyclopedia was the place to look. Of course you only got one source of whatever information you were looking for, and sometimes there might not be any information at all.

Then along came the computer and life was good. Yep, the internet has a wealth of information on just about any subject you can think of. But without the love-it-or-leave-it internet tool called a search engine, a person couldn't possibly navigate through all the available data.

Fortunately, there are a variety of search engines available, but if you don't know how to navigate or at least maximize your navigation, you might as well go back to flipping through the pages of an encyclopedia.

Whether it's Google or Yahoo or something else, most search engines work in a similar manner. Start off by plugging a word into the search engine and stand back for thousands of reliable sources (and some not so reliable) of information on whatever it is you're looking for.

For starters, when you access the home page for Google you see a search box where you enter the term or phrase on which you're searching for information. With Yahoo you get the Yahoo homepage. Entering the proper words in the available box is the best way to target the results that will meet your expectations. So, choose your search words carefully. According to a great article on and written for computer hardheads like me, it helps to be as specific and descriptive as possible and be aware that there are often several words with similar meanings. For example, if you're searching for information about comic books, realize that others might call a comic book a graphic novel or a comic strip or an illustrated novella. To find all the information about comic books you will want to search for these other terms as well.

It's a good idea to use search words that exactly indicate your objective. Searching for information on boxing and using only the word boxing will produce a large variety of results. But if you use additional words it will help to produce more specific results. For example, by adding the word offense you will be presented with information about various offensive maneuvers and stances to enhance your performance in the ring. Typing in the words boxing and matches will produce information about recent boxing matches or matches soon to be held.

You can narrow your search by adding specific terms. For instance, a search on the word boxing yielded almost 48 million results. But when I searched on boxing and matches there were only 335,000 results. Searching on boxing, matches and Evander Holyfield resulted in only 1100 results, and adding the word 2007 to the list shrank the results to one. A lot of numbers to sure, but usually the best information can be found on the few pages.

Here's another trick I learned: use double quotation marks to search for exact words and phrases. Words enclosed in double quotes are treated as a single term. According to, Google will return only Web pages where the words inside the quotes are used together in the same order that you typed them. A search for comic books and artists versus "comic book artists" will produce different results.

And for something completely different, try using a minus sign (-) before a word will exclude results containing that word. Searching for boxing produces millions of results but try using boxing-Muhammad Ali and that narrows your search considerably (to 986 to be exact).

Easy stuff, right? Sure it is, now that you know the secret. Search engines have more capabilities than most people use or probably even know of. According to, information on these additional capabilities can usually be found listed under "Advanced Search" or "Help", and investigating these areas will give you a better understanding of how to construct your searches to more quickly find exactly what you need.

So there you are. If I can do you do it. Now get out there and start searching!


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