How do you search Google? If you’re like me, you type search terms into the Google machine and hope for the best. What if I told you there’s a better way? This post includes three simple steps to refine your search technique in hopes of finding that perfect source. Let’s say you’re an English teacher about to introduce Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to your students and you need some resources on the author. Like me, you probably would start your search by typing “Jane Austen” into Google and then begin searching through the first few pages looking for a useful, reputable source. However, over 2.8 million results is a lot to cull and could be A BIG WASTE OF TIME! Here are three tips to get what you need in less time.
Tip #1 Site Operators
An operator in Google is something extra you add into your query to limit a search. Let’s take our Jane Austen search to the next level. By using a site operator, I can modify my search query in one easy step. After I type “Jane Austen” I’m going to add a site operator to limit my search. I simply type “site:” and what I’m looking for. In this case I’m looking for only Jane Austen sites from colleges. So I add “site:.edu” to my search. So, it looks like this in the Google search: Jane Austen site:.edu
Or, if I know of a particular college that has a great literature department I might limit my search to just that college. In this case I will limit my search to just Harvard. To do so, I will use this site operator: Jane Austen site:harvard.edu
I’m glad I did that, because the fifth link down on the Google search page is a fabulous resource from Harvard University Press with a host of reputable links about Jane Austen including a Jane Austen blog and a website with digital scans of all the 1100 pages of fiction we know about that was written in Austen’s own hand. I don’t think I would have found this resource searching Google in the traditional way.
Tip #2 Site Operators by Country
Obviously, up to this point, we’ve only searched for Jane Austen sites primarily in the United States since that’s where I’m searching from. However, we all know that Jane Austen was from England. So, I’m going to limit my search to just websites in England. Every country has a two letter country code (here’s a list of all of them) so I’m going to use England’s, which is UK for United Kingdom. I will type the following to limit this search to just websites hosted in that country: Jane Austen site:uk
That worked, but also brought a ton of commercial sites to my results. I’m going to look to modify my search to just colleges in England. It’s important to remember that academic institutions outside the United States sometimes use other letters in their web address extension. In England, they use “ac” for academic. So, to find information about Jane Austen from colleges in England I will use the following search query: Jane Austen site:ac.uk
This search turned up many interesting results I might never have found. On the first page of results I found a collection of Jane Austen lectures from professors at the University of Oxford I could use to flip part of my introductory presentation to students.
Tip #3 File Type Operators
We’ve found some great Jane Austen resources by being smart about how we search the web. File type operators can make our searching even better. By searching for specific file types, I’m going to look for certain things like a pdf, a PowerPoint (.ppt or .pptx), or word document (.doc or .docx). Since we’re searching for Jane Austen stuff, let’s say I’m interested in finding a PowerPoint presentation on the famous author that I can modify for a presentation (giving the original creator of the PowerPoint credit, of course). To do this search, I will use this code: “filetype:ppt” to limit the search to only PowerPoints on Jane Austen. Here’s how I will do that in the search bar: Jane Austen filetype:ppt
Wow, that still turned up over 1300 results. That’s too many. I’m going to combine my file type search with a site operator by typing this: Jane Austen filetype:ppt site:.edu to limit my search to just Jane Austen PowerPoints from colleges.
So easy! My search was reduced to 150 results. On the first page I found a fabulous PowerPoint from the State College of Florida packed with information about the author and other nineteenth-century female writers. I also found a PowerPoint presentation on an interesting manor project that students in Baltimore County Public Schools complete. Just by limiting the search using file type and a site operator, I found amazing resources in virtually no time at all.
These hints are helpful for teachers but can be even more helpful and powerful for students. Imagine having students pick from a few presentations found online and having them use those resources to find the best information and create their own presentation to give to classmates. Or, having students research a topic in history class from the perspectives of writers from different countries. Simple search operators can turn a traditional Google search into a student-centered research task where students can find information from multiple countries and use their enhanced digital literacy to select only the best resources for a presentation or to create a collaborative online textbook. Using operators in Google can refine Internet searching so amazing resources are only a click away. And on the first page of results–not page 4,327.
Note: Typing a period after the colon is optional when using operators. For example, site:.edu and site:edu will return the same results.
Another note: From your Google homepage, click on settings (located in the bottom right corner of the search home screen and click on “advanced search.” This will take you to Google Advanced Search where the operators written about here can also be found.