What a fun question! It?s interesting to be challenged to describe the
?how to? of ?how to search.? Here are several approaches that might be
appropriate in various search situations.
Before you start, I suggest that you set your Preferences to Number of
Results = 100. I find that the ability to quickly scroll through a
large collection of results will give you instant feedback on whether
you?re on the right track or not.
Next, throughout my answer I?ll be using your example of building bird
houses with the assumption that you can substitute whatever skill,
subject or topic you want for your other searches. I?ll use ?how to
plan a birthday party? as an example.
Search engines have developed through the years and natural language
searching has gotten quite good. Using a natural language search
frequently will give you exactly what you want.
SEARCH TERM: how to build a bird house OR how to plan a birthday party
A quick scroll through the results shows lots of sites that would
answer the question. If you want additional or different results, you
could take an approach of starting with a very broad search and then
narrowing it down with modifiers. This is especially useful when
researching obscure subjects.
SEARCH TERM: bird house OR birthday parties
You get lots of results and some of them even relate to your ?how to?
question. This kind of broad-based search will frequently give you
ideas about what vocabulary might be useful for your search. Usually
you will get lots of hits that offer products and services related to
your topic. Sometimes you come up with the names of schools,
associations or organizations that care about the subject. These might
be very useful, depending on why you are looking for the ?how to?
If the results are too diffuse and don?t give you what you need, the
next step is to start narrowing down the results by adding search
terms that will focus the results to your objectives. You now add the
most obvious modifiers and enclose phrases in quotes so they will be
treated as a single term. You also drop irrelevant words.
SEARCH TERM: ?how to? build ?bird houses? OR ?how to? plan ?birthday party?
You can see that the results are much more focused. Once you get more
familiar with searching, you might want to start with using phrases
Building bird houses or planning birthday parties are popular subjects
and there are lots of resources. You may have to broaden the search
when the results are less satisfying. If this is the case, you want to
include search terms that give alternative terms for what you?re
trying to do. You want to use additional terms for ?how to? as well as
for ?build.? You can use these alternate terms by substituting them in
the original search. Alternately, you can consolidate many of these
alternate terms by using OR (in capitals) between the synonyms. This
way all of the alternate terms will be considered in the same search.
?how to? OR instructions build ?bird houses?
?how to? OR instructions plan ?birthday party?
procedures OR methods OR directions OR instructions build OR make OR
?steps for? ?bird houses?
procedures OR methods OR directions OR instructions plan OR design OR
organize ?birthday party?
As you can see, the results will be in the ballpark but the emphasis
will vary depending on the particular sequence of words and phrases.
As you get more experienced with using these techniques, you will get
a feel for how to compose your searches on your topics of interest.
Searching is more an art than a science ? especially because what you
already know has a great deal to do with how you define the search and
evaluate the results.
In addition to using these techniques for searching, it is also useful
to consider who else is interested in your subject and is it likely
that someone else has already collected the information into a
directory, portal or megasite. Directories are especially worth
DIRECTORY SEARCH: ://www.google.com/dirhp
SEARCH TERM: bird house OR birthday party planning
Finally, there are some website that are dedicated to ?how to?
instructions. They cover a limited number of topics but can be very
useful. You can also look for specialized ?how to? guides for specific
topics, industries, or skills.
SEARCH TERM: ?how to? OR "how to instructions OR guides"
eHow.com - Clear Instructions on How To Do (just about) Everything
The How-To Manual That Anyone Can Write or Edit
The Web's biggest how-to directory!
~ czh ~