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Systematic searching for information

How to search for information online
I think we’re all pretty used to searching for information and I think it’s something that most people do throughout their daily lives without even thinking about it. So, for example, if I was at home with my husband, I might have an argument with him about what film so-and-so actor was in, and I could quite easily get out my phone and look at the answer, looking at something like Wikipedia or Internet Movie Database, or I could even just Google the answer.
I think that Google’s great, but what we tend to do is that we tend to retrieve lots and lots of results and we tend to only look at the first few results and barely go beyond page one or two of results. So for example, if I looked up the word “cat” in Google it might tell me that I had around 100 million results, and it might actually only show me around a thousand of those results, which is less than 1% of the full extent of what it thinks exists. And I’m not likely to look beyond page two of those results anyway.
So it’s really just making us rely on a handful of resources a lot of the time, and not necessarily pointing us towards what we need, but what it thinks we need based on those words. So that’s usually fine for most purposes but there are times when you need to go beyond that and be a bit more strategic with your search. So one of the things that you might want to do is think about search words. But also there’s advanced searching facilities on things like Google and other search tools as well, that can let you be more specific. I think another important thing to be thinking about is what it is you’re trying to find and whether where you are looking
is the right place: so do think about where it is you are looking for the information. So for example, if I wanted to buy some cheese I might go to the supermarket, and I might see some cheddar on promotion at the end of an aisle. But I might decide that’s not what I want, and so I go off to the dairy section and I find an array of cheeses, like Red Leicester, Camembert and Parmesan. But I still might not be finding quite what I’m looking for. So I could then decide to go to the deli counter and talk to a cheesemonger and look at something more exotic! But alternatively I might decide to just not got to the supermarket…
I might go to a deli that is a bit more niche and that has lots of different cheeses from around the world, for example. So what I’m saying is that I’m changing searching behaviour based on what I need. And the same is true for information searching really. It’s just being aware that not every search tool will have access to the same things, and it’s sometimes worth exploring elsewhere. It’s sometimes possible that the information that you think you need isn’t available at all, and you might have to redefine what it is you are looking for all together.

The way we look for our keys is different to the way we look for a holiday. If we want to know what’s on television tonight, we might look in a different place to if we want to order a pizza. All of these tasks, and more, can now be performed online, and all require different approaches if we’re to be sure to get what we’re after.

As Teaching and Learning Advisor Alison Kaye explores in this video, it may be necessary for us to look beyond the first page of Google results. We may even be better off searching somewhere else entirely. We also need to tailor our searching behaviour according to the place where we’re looking and the type of information we’re after.

Even if you are just using Google, there are still some handy tools we can use to tailor our searches. For starters there’s Google’s Advanced Search which will give you a lot more control over your searching. There are even special terms called operators that you can use in the normal Google search box to control your search.

If you’re getting a lot of irrelevant results on Google, you can also go to the ‘Search Tools’ menu at the top of your results, and switch the ‘All results’ toggle to ‘Verbatim’: this will force Google to only search on the terms you’ve entered, rather than guessing at alternate meanings.

In the comments, below, why not consider some of the following questions?

  • What search tools do you use as an alternative to Google?

  • Do you search on multiple platforms for information?

  • What do you think are the benefits of using different search engines when seeking information?

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