When I was young I spent hours at the public library enthralled with all the information and knowledge held within those old brick walls. The card catalogue became my passport to the world of information. Amazingly, the facts in all those books and many, many more are now at my fingertips on the Internet. The World Wide Web, however, has no card catalogue. In order to find needed information, a computer user must learn how to navigate a search engine, the exploration tool of the Internet.

A search engine is really a general class of programs that enables users to search for documents on the Internet. Users enter a specified keyword, and the search engine returns a list of the documents where that keyword was found. Because of the enormous number of documents on the World Wide Web, users must learn a few tips for entering the proper words to help target the results to their expectations.

One Search Engine

Use one search engine and learn it well. Every search engine uses different rules and techniques. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser software varies the search engine, giving you a different engine for each search. This is confusing and not conducive to good searching. So pick one search engine and stick with it.

My favorite search engine is Google at www.google.com. It almost always comes through to help me find exactly what I need. With a few pointers, it can do the same for you. Here are my Google tips. While some of these tips (like the first two) are useful in any search engine, others will be Google-specific.

Search Words

Carefully consider your search words. For instance, you want to learn more about the movie Jaws. If you go to a search engine and enter the word jaws, you will get some information about the movie, but you also may get information on Jaws, a screen-reading program for the blind, and JAWS, a Women’s Journalism group. To restrict your search results, enter jaws movie. This will give you only Web sites that have both the word jaws and the word movie. Google ignores common words like “of,” “for,” “a,” and “the.” So, you could also enter jaws the movie with the same results. Don’t worry about capitalization; Google does not differentiate between upper and lower case letters.

Double Quotation Marks

Use double quotation marks for phrases and names. This instructs the search engine to treat multiple words as a single term. It will return only Web pages where the words inside the quotes are used together in the order given.

Narrow the Search

Narrow your search by using additional terms.  When you enter search terms, Google looks for any Web page that has all of the words you enter. To limit the search, just add more pertinent words. For instance, a search for the word George will yield 21,200,000 results. If you search for George Washington, you will get 2,320,000 results. A search for George Washington Carver will turn up 88,400 links. Add what you learned in the last tip and search for “George Washington Carver,”   and you have narrowed the results to 28,700. That still sounds like a lot of pages, doesn’t it? So enter more words that indicate exactly what you are searching. If what you really want to know is where George Washington Carver grew up, a search for “George Washington Carver” childhood home will give you just what you need.

Minus Sign

Use the minus sign to exclude words. When you want all relevant result pages, except those containing a certain word, prefix your query word with a minus sign. Google will then ignore all pages containing that word. For instance, enter Washington   -George to get information about other people, places, and things named Washington, but not George. Enter George -Washington to get information about others named George, but not Washington. Be sure to put a space before the minus sign but no space after it. The correct entry is George (space) –Washington, not George-Washington.

Advanced Options

Use the advanced options. Google has an easy-to-fill-in form for advanced searches. Just click on Advanced Search from the Google home page and you can fill in a form that spells out the basis of the results. You can choose to look at only recently updated Web pages, Web pages written only in your choice of languages, only pages that have the search words in the title, or pages where the search words are found only in the URL. Many of these options have shortcuts, but the advanced options page is great, if you are new to searching.

This is just the start. To become an expert Googler, go to the Google Web site and look at the options. Read their instructions and try a few searches. Before you know it, you will be able to find that needle in the Internet haystack.