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Q: How does an "expert" search for information online effectively? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: How does an "expert" search for information online effectively?
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: nevinl-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 02 Aug 2003 06:54 PDT
Expires: 01 Sep 2003 06:54 PDT
Question ID: 238136
I've been using the net since about '90 or so, but I still feel that I
am not able to "find" information as effectively as possible...Google
Answers is great, but I'd really like to learn how to fish...

One of the largest problems when I research something is that everyone
seems to selling me something, or I get the wrong type of information.

For example, I just tried to find some photographs of the abyssal best, I get research documents ABOUT them..that's it.

I wanted to get a pressure washer last week, but it seems that some
brands are I try to find out which brand is best, only
to get pressure washer dealer sites. Consumer Reports? Not covered

I'm thinking about getting a master's degree and hoped to talk to some
computer engineers or maybe some mechanical engineers in my area -
finding that online? besides searching for biographies or putting some
hooks in to find resumes in this area code, I don't have a clue...

I know that many search engines can specialize in particular types of
searches, but beyond that I just flop around...

What makes a research expert an "expert"? What's your secret? How can
I search effectively online?
Additionally, what practical searching strategies do you recommended?
(eg, using google highlights, Find in page, new windows).

Please let me know if I should try to narrow this question, or raise
the price, etc...thnx
Subject: Re: How does an "expert" search for information online effectively?
Answered By: missy-ga on 02 Aug 2003 13:06 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello nevinl!

What a terrific question!  

It's a little known fact that one of the purposes of Google Answers is
to help Google users learn to search for information more effectively
- this is why you see answers with the "Search Strategy" included at
the bottom.  Sometimes, it's just a matter of finding the right search
terms.  For some people, this is as easy as getting out of bed, for
others, it's an exercise in extreme frustration.  That's OK, though. 
We're here to help make things easier.

One of the first things to remember is that <*gasp*> Google isn't the
only source of good information.  I know, utter heresy.  But it's
true!  Google is certainly the fastest and the easiest search engine
to use (and I use it almost exclusively for initial searches), but
sometimes what you need isn't going to be found with a quick Google
search.  So...

**Rule Number One**

Don't limit your information sources.  Some other terrific search
engines to try:




BoardReader (to search message board postings)

Electronic Journal Miner (to search blogs and e-journals)

Newspaper Archive (to find old news articles)

LexisONE (legal info)

FotoSearch (for images)

(These are just a few from my formidable bookmark stash.  I can't let
you have *all* of my secrets, though! ;)  )

Your phone is a good source of information, too.  People you know will
know things, so if your pal likes deep sea exploration, call him up
and ask him where to look and who to talk to.  Five minutes on the
phone can save you five hours of plowing through useless information!

A corollary to this rule is:

*Make Friends With Your Librarian*

Searching online is all well and fine, but if you're really interested
in complete information, you sometimes need to look *offline*.  In
spite of the vast wealth of information available online, there are
still many more sources *offline* that are more complete.  If you find
yourself looking for information often, developing a good relationship
with your local librarian will help you in ways unimaginable. 
Librarians Know Things, and if they're employed by a good library,
they often have access to subscription databases geared toward the
information professional.

I ply my favorite librarian with gifts of baklava and address him as
"Your Godliness", because he's saved my bacon on any number of
occasions with information I've needed to help a Google Answers

This falls very firmly into the category of "Don't limit your
sources", but it's a special sub-set worthy of its own mention.

**Rule Number Two**
Search engines are not omniscient, so be very specific!

There has been quite a kerfuffle of late about the "intelligence" of
search engines.  Some folks have even gone so far as to compare Google
to God.

Poppycock.  A search engine is only as effective as the instructions
you give to it, and if you give it vague instructions (or none at
all!), it's not going to be able to help you effectively.  Garbage in,
garbage out, as the old saw goes.  Google does not read minds.

There are a number of ways to make sure Google gives you what you want
- or rather, tries to give you what you want.  Remember, just because
you want it, it doesn't mean it's available online.  Some things
simply aren't, and no keywords in the world will help that.  My
favorite ways to make Google dance to my tune are "Operators" - little
tags that tell Google to search specifically for something, or to
specifically exclude something.  The Google Help pages discuss
Operators here:

Advanced Search Made Easy

...and here:

Advanced Search Operators

(Always read each search engine's help pages before you use it.  The
help pages are a lot like the keys to your car - if you stick the
wrong key in the ignition, you're not going to get too far, so make
sure you're using the right keys!)

Since I have an interest in deep sea exploration, let's take your
search for pictures of the abyssal plane and use that as an example. 
I'll bet you searched on [ abyssal plane ]?  It seems like a common
sense search, right?  Except...that only tells Google to find pages
with "abyssal" and "plane" on them, not necessarily together, without
bothering to look for pictures.

What about this one:

[ "abyssal plane" photo OR photograph OR picture OR image ] ?

This tells Google to look for the *phrase* "abyssal plane", and any of
the words photo, photograph, picture or image.  Was it successful? 
Almost.  After discarding pages discussing a video game in which
"abyssal plane" figures prominently, I did manage to scrounge a thesis
out of the cache:


It even had pictures, but they're not accessible anymore, as the
author has removed everything from the web!  Well, poo.

What about a change of terms?  This brings us to the corollary for
this rule:

*If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Other Terms.*

What you call something might be entirely different from what J.
Random Webmaster is calling it, so try altering your search terms with
synonyms or related terms:

[ "abyssal zone" photo OR photograph OR picture OR image ]


There are a few images out there, though mostly of the creatures found
in the abyssals, not necessarily of the abyssals themselves (hey, it's
dark and cold down there!):

Deep Sea Pages:  Vents and Seeps

Deep Sea Pages:  Bathyl and Abyssal Fishes

Deep Sea Pages:  High Pressure!

Following some additional links on those pages led me here:

Into The Abyss - Living at Extremes

Into The Abyss - Discoveries in the Deep

...and probably most useful if you really want to put some time into
acquiring photos of the abyssal plane:


...which brings us to our next rule:

**Rule Number Three**

Let your curiosity get the better of you, and follow interesting
looking links.  You never know what you might stumble on.

Truly good information takes time and curiosity to dig up.  If you
take your time and explore a little bit, you're more likely to be able
to find what you need.  Not everyone takes the time to ensure that
their page content is complete or keyword rich, but plenty of
webmasters have terrific links to *other* sources.  If you find a page
that's *close* to what you want, start poking around in the links
pages.  You may be only a click or two away from what you're looking
for, you just need to be patient and persistent.

Web searching isn't an exact science, so you'll probably need to run
your search on UseNet and one or two other search engines to make sure
you've not missed anything.

(NOTE:  Here are some terms to help you with your other searches:  [
"pressure washer" reviews ], [ "mechanical engineers" contacts
networking ] )

I use a number of helpful tools during the course of my searching, and
have found them to be utterly priceless in terms of making my work
easier and more organized.

First, I use Mozilla 1.4, with MozDev's GoogleBar installed.  The
GoogleBar has quick links to all of Google's services, such as the
Image Search, Google Groups, Froogle, and even Google Language Tools. 
Additionally, Mozilla offers tabbed browsing.  This lets me open up a
multitude of links, each in their own tab, as well as the ability to
bookmark an entire group of open tabs to refer back to the sites

You can download Mozilla here (it's free!):


I keep my bookmarks organized.  It makes it easier to go back and find
what I want when I only have to glance at a short list.  Separate them
out and put them into descriptive folders - library sites with online
access have their own folder, search engines likewise.  Telephone
directories and people search tools occupy a folder, as does a wealth
of travel related directories and search engines.  A place for
everything, and make sure everything is in its place!  (Also, back up
your bookmarks using your browser's export tool, and stick the file
both onto a floppy disk and out on the web somewhere - that way, if
disaster strikes, you still have your information stash.)

Google's cache is your friend for fast location of information. 
Instead of clicking on the page's link in the search results, open the
cached page in a new tab instead.  The highlighting lets you determine
if the information presented is relevant to your search very quickly -
just scroll to the highlighted terms and read the two or three
sentences around the highlighting.  Not what you need?  Close the tab
and hit the next cached page.  Find a whole herd of useful pages, but
need to close your browser and do something else for a bit?  Bookmark
your tab group, and open them with a single click later.  It's so much
faster than fishing through your History!

I hope this helps you in your quest to become a better searcher! 
Really, it only requires a little patience and perseverance to
successfully navigate your way through the information available. 
Practice a little, and you'll be hitting your target in no time!

If I can be of further assistance to you, please just ask for
clarification.  I'll be glad to help.


Search terms:  None.  Bookmark stash and lots of personal experience.

Clarification of Answer by missy-ga on 02 Aug 2003 16:16 PDT
Hi again!

Researcher larre-ga points out something that I (and I!)
misspelled the search terms!

Try this one:

[ "abyssal plains" photo OR photograph OR picture OR image ]

Here's a nifty fella:

A pycnogonid sea spider

My thanks to larre-ga for pointing out the spelling mistake!

nevinl-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $6.00
Exact - exceptional insight and practical advice to answer my
question. Thanks for the links for the other search engines, as well
as the other search queries. BTW, what are some other exceptional
search engines or tools? =)

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