[ Skip Main Nav ]

Phoenix Forward magazine

5 tips to improve your online search skills

How to search

Whether you’re searching for an academic study on the evolution of certain types of reptiles or just looking to discover the best pizza joint in your neighborhood, it’s important to learn how to conduct a proper Internet search so your results will take you where you want to go.

While tools like Google™ and Bing® search engines appear to be pretty simple to use, PJ Purchase, director of the University Library, says these tips can help improve your searching skills:


Know your topic.

It’s important to be familiar with the general subject matter and vocabulary surrounding the topic you’re searching so you can choose the best combination of words to hone in on your subject, Purchase suggests.

For example, if you’re looking to find out about the civil war in Cambodia, you may discover you’ll get better results by using the political party “Khmer Rouge” in your search rather than “Cambodia.” “Experiment with different word combinations,” Purchase says, “until you get the results you want.”


Choose the appropriate search engine.

While most people use Google search nowadays, there’s a wide range of search engines that may better suit your needs. Pandia Powersearch, a large catalog of different search engines, is a good place to start, Purchase notes. For scholarly articles, she recommends Infomine, a search engine devoted solely to that purpose.


Try a directory.

Some searches may be better conducted using website directories — lists of websites organized under specific topics by people who’ve reviewed their contents and determined their relevance. Search engines, Purchases notes, generally troll websites for keywords.

“If you’re looking for a list of vetted websites, such as a comprehensive list of reputable magazines,” Purchase says, “try a directory.” Search by using the word “directory” with your keyword.


Employ advanced tools.

Depending on which search engine you use, you can learn about its advanced search tools to help narrow down what you seek. For instance, Google has an inside search tips section that shows you how to look only for blogs, news stories or numerous other specific types of information.

Many search engines also offer shortcuts to refine searches, such as using quotation marks around words to seek an exact phrase, or typing the words “and” and “or” between keywords to expand a search.


Ensure the website is credible.

Once you’ve found a website that seems to fit what you’re looking for, make sure it’s legitimate before relying on the information it provides. Purchase recommends reading about the organization behind any site to determine, for example, whether the source may be biased or politically motivated.

Sites that end in .gov, created by specific government departments, and .edu, developed by educational institutions, are generally more fact-based than other websites, Purchase says. The Digital Public Library of America is another credible resource, she adds, referring to the enormous digital library created by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and launched this year.

Related articles:


Google is a trademark of Google Inc.
Bing is a registered trademark of Microsoft Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries.

Interested in furthering your education?