Your standard Google search doesn’t take too much brain power, but let’s look at some ways to make the most of this indispensable research tool.
For a fancy Google search, use the Advanced Search page, which you can find by Googling or clicking on the gear icon on top right of the search results page.The form will allow you to limit your search results by date, file type, language, etc. You can bypass it altogether, however, by learning a few Google tricks (more of which you will find in the Advanced Google Operators Guide).
AND is assumed. Put exact phrases in quotes. To find terms that are near each other, use an * — for example, Sabrina * Erdely, which will find pages that mention “Sabrina Rubin Erdely,” “Sabrina R. Erdely,” etc.
OR (or |): find either of two or more terms (and yes, the OR must be capitalized). For example, to find out what Bush or Obama said about the case of Eric Garner, try this:
“eric garner” bush OR obama
NOT: use a minus sign (-) before the term or terms you don’t want to appear in your results. For example:
salsa -dance -music
Using Search tools
How would you search for information on Sabrina Rubin Erdely from before the recent flap? Limit your results to certain dates using the Search tools > Any time function.
Searching within a site
You’ve no doubt noticed that most sites’ internal search engines are pretty bad. Bypass them by Googling site:[URL]. For example, searching the Phi Kappa Psi website for “university of virginia” doesn’t yield any results. But this does:
site:phikappapsi.com “university of virginia”
Searching by file type
If you’re looking for reports or datasets, use the filetype function. The following searches will help you find statistics on infant mortality in New York.
filetype:pdf infant mortality “new york” — finds PDF documents
filetype:xls infant mortality “new york” — finds spreadsheets
You can also use ppt for PowerPoint and doc for Word documents, or the newer Microsoft extensions — xlsx, docx, etc.
Search by domain type
- site:edu — colleges and universities. Good for finding experts
- site:mil — U.S. military sites
- site:gov — U.S. (and some state) government sites
- site:org — (mostly) nonprofits. Good for finding reports, studies, etc.
Specialized Google search sites
- Google News Archive (Google it)- allows you to search for old news stories
- Google Scholar (see also Microsoft Academic Search)
- Google Books – I used this recently to find quotes about Mars
- Google Images— either find images or do a reverse image search.
Check out Google’s quick reference guide for other advanced searching tools.
Finding archived websites
The Phi Kappa Psi website — http://aig.alumni.virginia.edu/phipsi — is pretty sparse at the moment. But what did it look like a year ago? Let’s use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to find out. Here are some other resources for finding old web sites.
Not everything can be found in a Google search. Loads of information is stored in databases, behind paywalls, etc. and invisible to search engines. Fee-based resources for finding material on the Deep Web include Nexis, Guidestar.org, and J-School and NYPL databases (get your library card!).
Some free Deep Web sites:
- Internet Archive – examples: weiner.house.gov, whitehouse.gov
- ACRIS – NYC Online Property Register
- DOD Verify Current Military Status
- FAA Aircraft Registry
How to evaluate a web site
- Is the site from a group, institution, or person you recognize? Consider its authority.
- Domain type: is it .mil, .gov, or .edu?
- Who produces the site? Check “About” information. Search for the site registry using Domaintools.com or a similar site.
- Is the information on the site current?
- Check out leads to other sites. Never stop at Wikipedia, but use the links.
- Look for parody or bias. Consider http://martinlutherking.org
Alternatives to Google
- The Search Engine List
- Search Engine Colossus
- Duck Duck Go — like Google, but prides itself on no ads
- Soovle – searches multiple search engines at once
- Carrot2 – “clustering engine”; organizes results into topics
And finally — a note about taking care of yourselves. In your career, you might cover sexual assaults, child abuse, war, disasters and any number of traumatic situations. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma offers these tips for maintaining your physical and psychological health.