As a student, teacher, researcher, I know three times over how tricky can be finding good sources on Google. If you want to direct your search to more precise and credible information, you’re going to have to start using something Google calls, search operators. Thankfully, they’re not as complicated as they sound. Let’s take a look. So here we are in Google search.
And I want to start with one of my favorite search operators, which is just simply quotation marks.
So you know that when you do a Google search, say for a line you read in a poem, what Google does is it just does a general search for those words, maybe in the order, maybe not.
And they pull up some results they think are relevant. I however, know that this is a line from something I read that I want to use as a source or want to find more about who’s written about that line, for instance.
So what you do is you surrounded in quotations and tell Google, look for these words in this exact order, completely. And you’ll see once I do that, I immediately start getting results. For what this line is from, which is a poem by Philip Larkin, this suddenly opens up a whole new world of research for me, where I can start narrowing down this to see if anyone’s done a close reading of this line.
Or I can just append Lark into it to make sure that I’m getting all results for Philip Larkin in his poem, it’s a great way if you kind of have an idea of what you’re looking for, to really tell Google, I know what I’m doing, search for these specific words in this order. So back on the Google search screen here, and I want to introduce you to my second favorite operator, which is the OR operator.
2. OR Operator
So say, you’re looking into a topic like climate change, you’re going to get a bunch of resources here you can search through, when you start to realize that, oh, yeah, other people refer to climate change as global warming and you want results.
For authors and sources talking about either or so what you do is you take the word, put or in all capital letters, and type in global warming, and this will tell Google to return result for either climate change or global warming. Now you have a more expansive list to draw from.
3. The hyphen or minus symbol:
This can be handy when you’re searching for a term like Apple that has double or multiple meanings. So say you’re looking for sources on the company, Apple. But when you type Apple into Google search, you get other results for cider Mills, or the fruit or whatever. What you can do is type Apple, telling Google that that’s the search term you want to look into, but then minus fruit that lets Google know that give me search results for Apple.
But without any reference to fruits, then you’ll see the results start to really focus in for you. The final search operator I want to introduce you to, is a bit more detailed, because it has multiple uses. And that’s the site colon operator.
4. Site colon operator:
So what you can do with this is, say you particularly like a source, or you want to search within one source to find something, you can use site colon, and then the website address or domain of the source, and then type in your search term.
And what this will do is tell Google to search within the site, New York times.com about the term single payer health care.
And then you’ll see all of our results are for the New York Times.
Another cool trick with this, especially for student researchers, is if you’re looking for really reliable information, one of the best places to look, are for universities and academic institutions.
And if you want to just get results in single payer health care from those kinds of sites and sources, you can use site colon, and then the domain suffix .edu which is just for academic institutions. You’ll see when we then click into the search here, we get results and single payer health care, just from .edu domains.
The third way to use this is by country code. So say you’re looking into something like the Syrian refugee crisis, and you want to get perspectives from outside of wherever you’re located. For instance, I’m in Africa, and I want to get more perspectives on the Syrian refugee crisis. So I know one of those perspectives I’d like to get is from Germany, well, Germany domains, end in .de, so we can use the site:de, and tell Google to search like we did with .edu. For just .de, German sites about this search term,
You’ll see we get a whole bunch of sources from Germany, on the Syrian refugee crisis.
This is an excellent way, when you’re doing research to get out of your national bubble and get sources that are perhaps more close to topics you’re looking into.
Now that you have a few of these tricks down, start combining them to get even better results. And of course, Google is only going to get you so far. So visit a library or use a library’s online resources. I’d also love to hear some of your tricks for Google search, add them into the comments.
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