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Info Skills Road Trip: 3 - Searching: Websites

Are all search engines created equal?

No two search engines are the same in terms of size, speed, content, ranking schemes and search options. Therefore, your search is going to be different on every engine you use. Typically, with two search engines, out of any 100 hits, 60 will appear in both, and 40 will appear in only one.

Try a few search engines. Choose the one that seems to work best for you for your default use. If it doesn't come up with the goods, then try others - for serious searching, always consider using two search engines.

Here are some you may have spotted on your travels.

Some Google advances search tips

These are useful tips and tricks to help you construct a good search statement for the web:


  • Phrase search ("  ")
    By putting double quotes around a set of words, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change. 
  • Search within a specific website (site:)
    Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, the query [ iraq ] will return pages about Iraq but only from
  • Terms you want to exclude (-)
    Attaching a minus sign immediately before a word indicates that you do not want pages that contain this word to appear in your results.
  • Fill in the blanks (*)
    The *, or wildcard, is a little-known feature that can be very powerful. If you include * within a query, it tells Google to try to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) and then find the best matches.
  • Search exactly as is (+)
    By attaching a + immediately before a word (remember, don't add a space after the +), you are telling Google to match that word precisely as you typed it. Putting double quotes around a single word will do the same thing.

Find out more:

Getting the best from a web search


You can successfully use web searches to gain a basic understanding of your topic. Wikipedia is an OK place to start, however you will need to read and reference scholarly works for your assessment.

First think carefully about what you are searching for:

  • What question do you want answered, and why?
  • Is your question very general or highly specialised?
  • What sort of information are you looking for?
  • Is there likely to be lots of information, or very little available?

Decide your approach - do you want to 

  • Locate a specific piece of information?
    • Use a search engine. If that fails, try a subject gateway or directory.  
    • This is a useful list of subject gateways from University of Leeds
  • Retrieve everything you can find on the subject?
    • Start with your favourite search engine and follow up with a couple of others and/or a meta-search engine.
    • Dogpile and ZOO are good examples of a meta search engines.
    • Don't forget to check resources off the web, such as books, journals and other print reference sources.
  • Browse?
    • If you're browsing and getting an idea of what's available in your subject area, start with a subject directory or gateway. If this fails, try a meta-search engines, just to see what sort of stuff is out there.
  • Keep your search simple
  • Use keywords in your searches. For example: Hitler Germany nazi propaganda
  • Use the search tools in Google. For example to find a definition type: define:nazi  or define:communism
  • Read the Google help notes, both basic search help and more search help
  • Choose from the list of search results carefully. Go to sites with edu, ac or gov in the web address first
  • Use Wikipedia to gain basic understanding and to provide better keywords or external links for more demanding searches in One Search
  • Move on to more scholarly sources to gain in depth understanding
  • Type your essay question into the search box - every word counts in the search and some words will confuse the search engine
  • Make references to Wikipedia in your assessment item (unless it's a requirement)

Finding more on the web

The Internet can be a rich source of information but not everything will be useful or appropriate for research use. Web resources should be carefully evaluated and used in conjunction with the scholarly resources provided by the Library. Use the Advanced search features of Google or Google Scholar to restrict your search to search results from reputable sources. There will be more on this at your next stop: Source City.

Beware online "filter bubbles"


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