One of the many skills that online researchers quickly learn to use is the ability to think in terms of search strings. The importance of knowing how to construct these investigative devices cannot be overstated. From a sheer time-saving point of view, they are essential. My general rule of thumb is that if what I’m looking for does not appear in the first or second page of search engine results, then my search string is not good enough.
So what is a search string? In a nutshell, a search string is a string of text that specifies the data that you are looking for in a given body of content. Since the amount of data that search engines catalog is unimaginably vast, a well-constructed search string can yield exactly the information you want in a shockingly short amount of time.
The trick to building search strings is knowing what words are related to the topic you want information about and the syntax necessary to tell the search engine exactly how you want it to search for said information. For example, let’s say that I want information on the classic ColecoVision game "WarGames." The Google search string I would build to find this information would be
WarGames ColecoVision -Badham
Let’s break this search string down:
WarGames = I want all mentions of the title of the game
ColecoVision = I want all sites that mention WarGames and ColecoVision
-Badham = Since I know that John Badham directed the 1983 film of the same name, I want to filter out all sites that mention Badham and WarGames and ColecoVision
This logic may seem simple (and it is), but the point I wanted to illustrate is that in constructing this search string, I used information I already knew (that WarGames was originally released for the ColecoVision console and that the movie WarGames was directed by John Badham) to use in refining my search. As you can see from the results of my Google search using this search string, I was able to get exactly what I was looking for.
The rule of thumb for online researchers should be to start specific and work your way out. Put as much information as you think useful into your search strings to start with. If the first search doesn’t result in a hit, start broadening the search by removing the more specific text. With a little practice, you should be getting most of the information you want on the first or second back of search engine results in no time.
Google offers some good help on empowering your searches on that search engine. I would definitely advise taking a few minutes to read up on it.