How To Search

See also: HOWTOs | Searching Resources | Using The Web

There is a simple method used by many who search the Internet: go to Google, type a word or two, and hope for the best. This works fine if you’re looking for a big corporate ( or popular ( website, but in most cases such searches fail to turn up useful results. The phrase, “I searched the net, but it wasn’t there” is almost always false. It is true that the Internet doesn’t yet contain every book, paper, essay, song, program, movie, and TV show, but there is a vast amount of material out there.

Herein lies some good advice on pulling out the bits of information you need from an ocean of irrelevancies.

Table of contents 1 Searching For Files

1 Before searching
2 Beginning a search – Search tools
3 Searching – Keyphrases and keywords

3.1 Example

4 Searching for images, audio, webpage hosts, etc
5 Further suggestions

Searching For Files

Before searching

When you see a web site address, especially on TV, jot it down on paper on directly on your PC if nearby. If you’ve got a PDA or a mobile phone, record your ideas or keywords as notes. Do the same for interesting people, notable organizations, key phrases and other keywords from which you can seek more information at your convenience. Even writing down some basic ideas immediately can help jog your memory later.

Then when you have the time to do some personal research, sit down with a list, and either type them up together before using the web. This allows one, to quickly paste words and phrases into the browser. But you could type them up from hand written lists as you complete searches.

Two things must be defined before sitting down and doing the actual search.

  1. What you want
  2. Who would know what you want

Define for yourself what information you want to end up with. Then ask yourself who would be an expert with that knowledge.

Beginning a search – Search tools

Check out Searching Resources and note one or two tools for you to start with. Your mission here is to get a best-fit between your search tool and your search topic.

For search engines other than Google, you could try Kartoo (, All the web (, or Hotbot ( If you like browsing structure directories try Open Directory Project ( or simply Yahoo (

If you cannot find a tool which is a snug fit for your topic, then you must search for a better tool. More on that in our example, below.

Searching – Keyphrases and keywords

A keyphrase is a phrase which would either be used by your topic for it to describe itself, or would be found within the information in it’s website. A keyword may be thought of as a one-word keyphrase.

If you can think of an appropriate keyphrase, like a subject name of a university program would be key to finding subject matter taught in that class, then begin with that keyphrase and variations of it.

Otherwise, start searching with numerous optional keywords. If there are no results, remove the least relevant or un-important words until interesting links are returned.

If using a web search engine, look into the advanced search option to see if any choices suit your search criteria. Use limits wherever possible to remove noisy search results. For example you may want to limit the language or domain name.

The Alta Vista Alta Vista ( (directly to text only advanced search ( allows you to use the NEAR keyword, which can be very efficient in certain searches. It requires words joinded (ANDed) by NEAR to be within 6 words of each other. This means that a search on Free Software will yield only pages where those words are close to each other, and not pages with Free on the first line and Software 200 lines down.


Let’s say we want to find an online dictionary of Canadian words.

As an example, let’s use Google as our search engine example. For simplicity’s sake we’ll begin with the one tool.

We go to, and explore some of it’s features.

  • We learn that there is a Canadian google at which may find more “Canadian” topics.
  • We learn that Google has the ability to search for french-language content, which might also be suitable.

We type in our search phrase (with quotes) “Canadian online dictionary” ( and come up dry. We try without the quotes ( and don’t see much of any use.

  • However, Google places items in directories, and a few of the entries are placed under Category: Reference > Dictionaries ( so we can check into that. If we knew a bit more about Google we could have begun our search there.
  • We note that now Google gives us the option to have our keywords only search through items within that directory.

Trying some more searching with this new function, let’s say we still cannot find a resource which jumps out at us (although a few entries here certainly would be useful). We must now either switch to more appropriate tools or somehow redefine and refine our search from scratch.

Perhaps adding a more “Canadian” keyword would help. Well perhaps we’re searching from the wrong angle. Who would use or host an online Canadian dictionary anyways? Well, two places come to mind: Schools and Libraries. Let’s try those.

Universities are major centres of learning and often have vast online resources – hopefully including a dictionary. Let’s think of a couple of universities. No, let’s not. Google has a directory of universities somewhere.

  • We can do a general Google for Canadian Universities ( and come up with a few relevant entries right away.
  • We can use Google’s directory function and look into: Category: Reference > Education > Colleges and Universities > North America > Canada (
  • We could get pretty specific and delve into Ontario ( schools and have our memory jogged a bit.
  • Let’s check out Google’s entry for Queen’s ( and visit their homepage: Queen’s University (
  • We can use Queen’s search entry and do a search for Dictionary (;y=0&amp;q=dictionary&amp;; Oh look, Queen’s uses Google. <code> =) </code>
  • A patient read through the search results brings up Dictionaries & Thesauri on the Web (Queen’s Libraries, Kingston, … ( This is Queen’s list of dictionary resources. We’re getting close to our goal.
  • Reading through that page, we realise that Cambridge was an entry we came up with ourselves a little while ago. Oh.. Cambridge is British isn’t it? That’s probably a good resource!

Now we have a good dictionary which we can use to learn that centre ( is the correct Canadian (British) spelling for both MIDDLE and PLACE.

What have we learned? Start with a topic-specific tool and it’ll go faster, directories are good places to find lists of links, and thinking of a place which would keep a list of the resources you’d want is a useful tool.

Searching for images, audio, webpage hosts, etc

Again check the advanced search option or use a few of multimedia specific search engines such as Ditto ( One good searchable collection of free website is at Freewebspace (

Further suggestions

Read important documents a number of times to increase comprehension of authors main points. If you think something is important share it with others.

This topic may be too large for just one page, so I will suggest an excellent website, Fravia’s Web-Searching Lore ( A warning though, Fravia thinks deep and comes from a background of reverse engineering, so this site my be more in depth than what most people want. There are no simple solutions, but it provides great strategies.

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