Search engine is perhaps one of the most frequently used tools in modern digital life, revealing whatever information that you intend to discover. To search, the common practice is to simply input a query and then hit “Enter”. Instantly the search engine generates a list of results, from which you choose the answers best meet your expectation. The above procedure describes most people’s search style, and few reflect on the effectiveness of their operation. In fact, there are ways help to find wanted search results more speedily and accurately. To quote my favourite words, “research technique is something you practice, not something you have.”1
What determines the effectiveness of your search? The first important factor is the selection of the application. This is because search engines are supported by different algorithms and ranking systems, which impacts search results significantly. Multilingual users sometimes have more than one preferred search engines. When searching in English, Google constitutes the lead search engine. But when it comes to Chinese content, some people switch to Baidu, the search engine that dominates the Chinese market. Baidu certainly generates different results than Google and thus may serve as an alternative, but does it perform better? Not necessarily. A random search of Chinese terms suggests that Google gives more meaningful and relevant results. Supported by excellent algorithms, Google has a satisfying performance regardless of the query language.
Search habit is another thing to consider. The search engine arranges search results in the order that is based on a number of factors, for example, the relevance of the webpage, the quality of the source, and your location. The results are displayed in a way meaningful for the search engine, which hopes to prioritize the results that meet your expectation. But sometimes what you are really looking for is hidden in the massive list. In this case, most people would only browse the first few pages for information. If no satisfying answer is shown, they would try different keywords. And if a desired result is still not seen, they would assume that what they want is not out there and stop trying. To search effectively, this post suggests using advanced search options to narrow down search results. Specifically, commands can be utilized for obtaining refined, useful information from credible resources. The following part of the post will introduce several essential commands useful in daily search work, which are accepted by most search engines, including Google and Baidu.
“” is to search the exact words. This is helpful when searching for the source of a quotation.
AND searches for this and that.
OR searches for this or that.
site: is to narrow down search results to certain websites. You can simply add a URL after this command to limit the search results to one website, but this command can also restrict results to a specific domain. For example, a search for 中国刺绣 site:.edu only displays results from websites end with the domain suffix “edu”, and 中国刺绣 site:.cn will restrict results to websites with the country code “cn”.
inurl: finds pages with a certain term in the URL. Unlike
site: that identifies sites based on the domain suffix,
inurl: searches for keywords in any part of the URL. As URLs of Chinese universities usually end with “edu.cn.”, a search for 刺绣 site:.edu gives websites of higher educational institutions in the States, but 刺绣 inurl:edu discovers Chinese universities as well.
– excludes a search term. 中国刺绣 -购物 will block shopping websites.
+ serves as the opposite of
-. 中国刺绣 +历史 will search for the history of Chinese embroidery.
filetype: identifies results of a certain filetype, such as pdf, doc, etc.
These commands can be combined for more advanced search options. For example, on my computer, a search for 苏州刺绣 +历史 site:.edu with Google only generates 107 results. (fig. 1) And 苏州刺绣 +历史 inurl:edu displays 5780 results including many Chinese sites. (fig. 2)
The key to maximize the power of combined commands is to have a clear vision of what you are looking for and to test and practice. Other than the list above, there are also many other commands for you to discover. For a full list of Google commands (operators), see Google Search Operators: The Complete List (42 Advanced Operators). Keep in mind that these commands are updated frequently, so please also upgrade your knowledge by using them daily.
- Turkel. J. William. “Going Digital.” 2011-03-15. https://williamjturkel.net/2011/03/15/going-digital/