Google has become a household name and it is probably the first informal port of call for anyone doing research, whether it is for a school project or a doctoral degree. It is in the nature of Google's vast store of all types of information aimed at all sorts of audiences to be of service to different levels of information need, but it is not a structured or particularly organised store of information. Hence, sifting out exactly what you need from the large sets of search results is a big task. The good news is that Google keeps developing sophisticated ways to streamline your search at the outset and this improves the likelihood that you will retrieve relevant and quality information.
Master Google's search operators (to use the technical jargon) and you will retrieve better results and save yourself time. Many of the search operators below are overlooked even by information professionals, so to be familiar with them will be a tremendous asset to your online research process.
Most people are aware that Google uses quotation marks to search for an exact phrase or verbatim quotation, e.g. "inclusive education" or "shall I compare thee to a summer's day".
The minus sign instructs Google to exclude certain words from your results, e.g. if you are looking for information on the mustang car but not mustang horses, you might try the following: mustang -horses.
The site: operator lets you search within a particular site. So, if you are looking for information on education statistics for 2011 on the Department of Education's website you might use the following search strategy: education statistics 2011 site:education.gov.za - note that you do not leave a space after the colon. The word 'education' follows immediately.
The site: operator also allows you to limit a search to a domain. The word domain refers to the various suffixes used in web addresses to indicate that the website comes from the field of commerce and business (.com or .co), from a particular country (.za), from an organisation (.org), from government (.gov) or from education (.edu), to name a few. Limiting your search to a particular domain can increase its relevance and its reliability. If you are looking for references of a high quality, you could use site:.edu to find results published only by educational institutions that are eligible and have qualified for inclusion in this domain.
The tilde (~) search operator helps you find relevant and related variants of the word you enter, e.g. "~teach" will retrieve teach, teachers, teaching. This is also timesaving as you search for these variations in one go.
The asterisk (*) search operator will retrieve variant word endings after the point at which you place the truncation symbol, namely the asterisk, e.g. work* will find work, works, worked, working, worker, workers, workhouse, workhorse and so on.
The date range search operator instructs Google to search for information published between specific dates. Use two full stops (..) between the dates, e.g. if you were looking for information on strikes in South Africa between 2008 and 2012 only, you might try "~strikes" 2008..2010.
The filetype: operator finds only files of a specific type, e.g. PDF (pdf), Excel (xls) or PowerPoint (ppt), and depending on the nature of your research, this helps you to focus on a particular type of information, e.g. examples of slide presentations on your topic. Therefore, you might search only for PowerPoint files, e.g. filetype:ppt "time management".
Original source: Hoffman, Chris (2012) 'How to search Google like a pro'
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