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Power Searching with Google


Do you use Google? Chances are you do. A study conducted in August of this year found that among the most popular search engines (i.e., Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com) Google is “the overall winner, holding a 74% share of searching.

If you are like me, you use Google frequently and probably feel pretty comfortable with your ability to find the information you need. I thought I had a good grasp of the process, but through my participation in the second offering of the Power Searching with Google course earlier this month, I discovered new (to me) strategies and shortcuts that I put to use almost immediately.

What I Learned in (Google) School

This free online program was a learning experience on many levels. The material was not only presented via Google’s open source Course Builder, but also well organized with lessons that included brief video presentations, interactive practice activities, an active discussion forum, Google+ Hangout sessions, and two online assessments. (The only requirement to complete the course was to pass the two tests.)

Self-paced with deadlines for taking the two exams, six lessons were presented over two weeks, each one taking about an hour to work though. The organizers promised participants that course completion would lead to: “Find[ing] what you are looking for faster, get[ting] right to the most credible sources, and solv[ing] even the most challenging questions.” I think it delivered.

A lot was covered in the Google class, but here are just a few quick strategies to expand or filter your results in helpful ways:

  • Look for sites related to ones you like. By adding “related:” to a site URL, the search engine will generate a list of other sites with related content. As a simple example, if I want to find sites similar to The New York Times site, I would enter “related:nytimes.com” in the search box.
  • Use synonyms to find similar resources. By using the ~ sign, you can locate sites that include the words you are looking for in addition to topics that are similar. A search for “calculus ~videos” includes results with “movies,” “lectures,” and “tutorials,” which may introduce you to sites you wouldn’t have located otherwise.
  • Explore the left panel. After executing a search, take a closer look at the menu options provided on the left side of the screen. It’s easy to look past these, but the menu items – images, maps, news, blogs, discussions, and more – allow you to further refine your search. Click on “show search tools” for even more options, including time, reading level, and translated foreign pages.
  • Some things don’t matter. You don’t have to worry about typing in punctuation or using upper or lower case letters. Google doesn’t differentiate, so a search for “online education!” will yield the same results as a search for “Online Education?” There’s even some adjustment for misspelling your search terms. You can also leave out parentheses. But word order and small words (e.g., a, the) can make a difference in your search results. Try this example included in the course: compare the top results for “who,” “the who,” and “a who.”

Develop Your Search Skills

If you are using Google as a starting point for finding more information about your course topics and to conduct research for online class assignments and projects, why not learn how to make your searches more effective? There are several resources available to help you refine your skills:

  • Tips and Tricks: This comprehensive list includes brief descriptions of each tip (many of which were included in the Google course) with screenshots and “Try it Out” buttons to demonstrate the techniques.
  • Inside Search: The official Google Search blog provides updates related to the search engine’s products and services, as well as additional tips.
  • Google Student Blog: Check in here for the latest news about educational projects and student participation, including internship opportunities.
  • A Google a Day: Play this online game to get more practice and reveal additional search recommendations. Track your improvement with points earned for completing the daily search challenge in a race against the clock.

There’s no word on whether or not the Power Searching with Google course will be offered again, but the Inside Search blog recently announced a “plan to offer a suite of upcoming courses in the coming months, including Advanced Power Searching.

What are your favorite ways to search for information online? Share your recommended sites, strategies, and resources with us here in the comments area.

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Image credit: Juancho 507, Flickr, CC:BY

October 17th, 2012 written by (learn more about our authors)

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